High School Honorable Mention Essay Excerpts (October 2003)


By Michaela Bronstein 

If it is the aim of the United States to make its residents pleased to reaffirm their allegiance to its flag, the words “under God” quite needlessly hinder this aim. The most directly harmful effect is to force a public declaration of religious faith or disbelief on the part of students. More insidiously, they alienate those who do not share the majority’s certainty in religious faith. Ultimately, they are simply unconstitutional. There is no fundamental difference between them and the non-denominational prayer that the Supreme Court struck down in 1962 ( Engel v. Vitale).

Few aspects of character are more personal than religious feeling. The addition to the Pledge of Allegiance of the words “under God” turns its recitation into a public litmus test, and can compel people to declare whether or not they believe in a higher power. This choice should be thrust upon no one, and it is particularly inappropriate in the realm of public schooling. . . . The absence of the words “under God” would not be a governmental declaration of atheism, or of hostility towards religion. It would merely cleanse American political rhetoric of the preferences for religion which litter its phrases.

The phrase is currently, however, an infected needle which pricks and festers every time it is encountered, by needlessly dividing people from each other and their government.

Michaela graduated from Garfield High School, Washington State. She will be attending either Harvard College or Balliol College at Oxford University in the fall. She plans to major in English Literature. Special interests include literary analysis, creative writing, constitutional law and film criticism.

The Tarnished Pledge

By Hagop Bouboushian 

In spite of our president’s popular “crusade,” in spite of the jingoism and paranoia perpetuated throughout the populace, in spite of the cavalcade of Ford Excursions bearing matching American flags and Icthus emblems, in spite of the very coins in my pocket, I stand firmly opposed to the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America. . . .

Written, ironically, by prominent socialist Francis Bellamy during a year otherwise characterized by the invention of the Ferris Wheel, the pledge was meant to reflect the principles of his cousin Edward’s utopian novels such as Looking Backward, which promoted ideas like nationalized health care and total freedom of religion. Why and how, then, would a divine commitment exist in the pledge?

Only an atmosphere of terrified patriotism to rival today’s could have produced the desire to mar this secular purity. Fearful that “godless” communist orations sounded similar to the pledge and that atomic war was imminent if a stronger division was not instituted between patriots and “traitors,” President Eisenhower was easy prey for religious zealots like the Knights of Columbus.

After a little persistent lobbying, the words “under God” slipped into the pledge just as quietly as the pledge itself had slipped into our devotional routine. . . . Hagop is an honor graduate of Corsicana High School in Texas, placing 5th in a class of 306. He plans to attend the University of Chicago.

Interests include reading in all scholastic fields, writing, music, politics, athletics, photography, carpentry and attending artistic exhibits of film, music and visual art. Possible college majors include political science, philosophy and physics.

The Pledge of Allegiance, Not the Pledge of Faith

By Kathryn Morrison 

At a time when textbook editors, writers and illustrators are not allowed to include in books for school children such phrases as “minority group” because it is offensive, “elderly” because it is ageist, and “heroine” because it is sexist, then why do they have these same children recite “one nation, under God” every morning? In a country as diverse as America, it is ridiculous to assume that everyone worships the same “God” or even worships a god at all. Am I not patriotic because I do not believe in God? Should I have to resort to not showing my patriotism every morning because I do not believe in God?

If church and state truly are separate, then the government should not include this outdated phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance. I do not think they realize that by keeping those two words they are excluding and offending a substantial group of Americans. . . . Although Americans are given the option of not reciting the pledge, those who do not believe in God still have to listen to others reciting these words. I cannot help but feel excluded and upset when everyone in my classroom recites “one nation, under God,” making me feel unpatriotic for not reciting the pledge because I do not believe in God.

I believe in the ideas and foundations of my country, but I also believe that church and state should be entirely separate. Expressing patriotism and expressing religion should be two separate acts, but the pledge combines them into one. Prayers are not allowed in schools, but the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance still intertwines the concept of prayer. Why forbid one and allow the other to continue to offend?

Kathryn graduated from Cherokee High School in New Jersey. She plans to attend Rowan University with a major in Radio/Television/Film. She will minor in psychology. Her interests include reading, writing, creating documentaries and other films, singing, speaking German and “being a Vegetarlan.”

The Pledge of Allegiance: An Un-American Tradition

By David Leuszler

One of those who showed concern about my refusal to stand for the Pledge of allegiance happened to be my teacher. She decided to lecture me in front of the class about how I was “showing disrespect to the men and women who protect our freedoms,” including her father, a World War II veteran! How ironic it was that the current pledge I objected to was not established until 1954, likely a solid decade after her father served in World War II. . . .

The pledge that was established in 1954 denies the main American ideal that is embodied in the original national motto “e pluribus unum,” literally meaning “from many, one.” Our original motto represents our acknowledgment of the power that comes from being a melting pot of cultures, ideologies and ideas.

The pledge, in its current language, excluded atheists from the society in which they contribute significantly, as demonstrated by their proportionally high presence in research labs and universities, and their proportionally low presence in jails and prisons.

The current Pledge of Allegiance is merely a remnant from the McCarthy era. As it is written today, it can only serve to unnecessarily divide and weaken us in this crucial time. David is a 17-year-old honor graduate of Tucker High School in Georgia and plans to attend Georgia Tech in the fall.

His major will be either computer science or biomedical engineering. Interests include debating politics and religion in online forums, playing a “good game of chess or a good game of go” and math and science in general.

Freedom From Religion

By Jason Lindgren 

One of the greatest strengths of the United States is its commitment to remaining a secular political body despite religious pressures, to avoid religion without disallowing it. But this commitment was betrayed when the phrase “under God” crept into the Pledge of Allegiance.

The placement of this deceitful phrase serves as an implicit pledge to the concept of Godhood itself, a breach of my guaranteed right to freedom of religion, and by extension, freedom from religion. Perhaps its inclusion was innocent in nature, simply reflecting the beliefs of its author, or perhaps it was a political means of rooting out “godless Communism” in our midst, but the truth is that its intent is irrelevant.

Unequivocally stated, the phrase “under God” has no place in our political body, and certainly no place in our schools. It only supports the dishonest misconception that all good things are descended from the will and “grace” of a fictitious entity above. Jason attended Oak Park High School in California. He will attend Yale in the fall.

He is an avid reader, a “consummate gamer,” and takes part in numerous sports including cross-country running, soccer, track, mountain biking and “kendo, the Japanese art of sword-fighting with bamboo swords called shinai.” His major still is indefinite, but he is interested in pursuing writing, nanotechnology, political science and possibly law. Politics: Child’s Play? By Carmen Alexis Byrd  Ashley, along with her class, stands in front of her desk, her hand pressed firmly against her heart, her lips reciting words that she can’t spell, or even understand.

Gina won’t stand and won’t recite the words that make up the United States of America’s Pledge of Allegiance. Gina is sent to the principal’s office again for disobeying the teacher’s commands while obeying the ardent convictions of her parents. Gina is confused. She is singled out among her peers as being a “troublemaker,” but praised by her parents for standing up for their beliefs and not violating a conscience that she has yet to develop. Gina is the subject of a political battle and religious war that has progressed for years through the actions of many adults who have proven to be as juvenile as she is. Gina has cause for confusion. In fact, the entire nation has proven its confusion, as political leaders, parents and press have buried the real issue, along with their intelligence, in the sandbox.

What is that issue exactly? The issue is that approximately one out of seven Americans is a nonbeliever, and insertion of the “under God” in the pledge is in direct defiance of all American citizens’ First Amendment rights. . . .

So, what will happen to Gina? Well, Gina will continue to be troubled and confused until her elders adopt the realization that the pledge is in complete opposition to the nation’s Constitutional promises and to the beliefs of many of its people. Until that realization is acknowledged, the real issue will continue to be buried in the sandbox of politics and covered with the murky dirt of unconstitutional policies and discrimination. Carmen graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts with a contemporary dance major and a GPA of 4.0. Her special interests include reading, writing, singing, crafts and all forms of techniques of dance.

She plans to attend Howard University with a psychology, pre-med major with possible minors in biology, English and dance.

Don’t Fear God or His Pledge

By Joshua Parry 

It happens every Monday morning. The students are startled awake by the intercom’s shrill crackling to life. A bubbly teenage cheerleader on the other end exclaims, “Please stand for the pledge.”

Lazily the children get up with groans closely mimicking the elderly rising out of bed. Hundreds of limp hands are placed on deflated chests. By the time the students are in the correct position of vertical awareness, the girl is already halfway through, saying “for which it stands.”

The kids then mumble a phrase or two and collapse back into their sleep-deprived comas. Except for one student who had never stood, although everyone notices and he can feel their eyes burning into him. He is an atheist and rightfully refuses to take part in religious activities, but this activity is in school, this activity occurs every Monday morning, and he can’t escape it. For this act he will be singled out by the teacher and be taunted by his peers. This student should be protected by the Constitution. . . . Joshua graduated from Keller High School in Texas.

He does not stand for the pledge. He enjoys life–he likes to work out and eat healthy. He is the captain of the varsity hockey team. He was district champion in the UIL Ready Writing competition. He will be attending the University of Arizona where he will study molecular biology. He is an atheist.

America The Theocracy?

By Sanjay Gopinath 

America was founded on principles, the principles of thoughtful men.

The laws of our nation are manifestations of these principles.

When we break these laws, regardless of the popularity or enthusiasm for the violation, it is wrong. The separation of church and state, one of these principles, is being broken every day. The role of the state is not the spiritual upbringing of a child, yet every day children invoke the words “under God” as a part of their daily routine. This is an egregious violation of the secular laws of our nation. These words need to be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance.

This is not what Francis Bellamy intended when he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance or what the founding fathers hoped for when they created a state without religious prejudice. . . . I grew up the son of immigrants. As most children of immigrants do, I yearned to be “normal.” I wanted to fit in with all my classmates and the easiest way was to be as “American” and patriotic as possible. It did not matter to me then that the words “Under God” were against my own religious beliefs or that there would always be people who would consider me foreign.

All that mattered was my “American-ness.” In retrospect I regret the importance I placed on other people’s opinion of me and with this a regret that I stood up with my hand over my heart and recited a pledge I did not believe in. I regret that I said the Pledge of Allegiance out of fear of being ostracized. If called upon, I will serve my country’s armed forces. I will pledge my loyalty to this nation but I will never again subject my religious beliefs to the state. Sanjay Gopinath is an avid fan of history and geopolitics.

Although born in Philadelphia, Penn., Sanjay has lived in Brussels, Belgium, India and Hong Kong in addition to various cities in the U.S. Sanjay has played competitive soccer for more than a dozen years. Sanjay played varsity soccer and lacrosse in addition to his involvement in Model UN. He graduated from Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., and will be a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, DC, this fall majoring in international affairs and economics. With Liberty and Justice for All . . .


By Sam Marcellus 

There is a plethora of reasons why “under God” does not belong in the pledge, from its casual use of God’s name, which should offend any true religionist, to its unconstitutional infusion of religion into public schools and other public settings. Most harmful, however, is its threat to one of America’s most fundamental principles, which our founding fathers went to great lengths to protect: the doctrine that every group in society, no matter how small a minority, is guaranteed basic rights as citizens of this nation. “Daily proclaim[ing] the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty” (as President Eisenhower put it upon altering the pledge to its current incarnation) only serves to instill the notion that freethinkers are not truly American. With an overwhelming monotheistic majority in this country, the rights of freethinkers are rarely respected. A passing reference to a deity, whose existence most of the populace takes for granted, may initially appear innocuous, but I don’t believe the majority would be so tolerant if it were a passing reference to the lack of a god. This double standard needs to be recognized and the regular endorsement of monotheistic values by the federal government must end. Sam graduated from Paul D. Schreiber High School, New York. He will attend Clark University in the fall with a major in computer science and a possible minor in political science.

His interests include “technical and stage crew for theater productions, political science, computers and Bob Dylan.” Taking Away Another Barrier to Diversity By Adam Katrick  It is early in the morning, a regular school day. The announcements come on, and the students lazily stand to recite the pledge in slurred, exhausted tones. A few seconds later, a loud thump is heard in the building as all of the students sit down in unison. Did any of them feel patriotic that morning? Was the Pledge of Allegiance really that important?

Only recently did the turmoil over “under God” reinstate itself. My high school hadn’t announced the pledge until the September 11th attacks. Just when the patriotic fervor had quieted down, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the pledge on trial.

Once again my school was announcing the Pledge religiously every morning, and “under God” became a fiery topic. During my high school education in a southeastern Ohio town, I have seen the effects of one overwhelming religion.

Sanctioned or not, religion made it into my school day in announcements, class lessons and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Being one of only a few voices who protest this undertow of religion in my school, I have refused to stand for the pledge, or religious songs, and have tried to bring a secular opinion into many daily class topics. . . . Taking “under God” out of the pledge is by no means attacking religion. It is simply putting the emphasis back on support for one’s country, rather than someone else’s religion. I and many students may choose one day to stand again for the Pledge of Allegiance if this religious barrier is removed. This would mean that there is one less cause for discrimination, something all schools should work for.

This way the Pledge of Allegiance would serve as a pledge to freedom, instead of another barrier in the road to diversity.

Adam graduated from West Muskingum High School in Ohio and is attending Marlboro College in Vermont in the fall. He will major in either environmental biology or physics.

His hobbies are woodworking, gardening, playing the trumpet, and debating politics and religion.

Are We the Home of the Free?

By Luiza M. Goncalves 

In my senior year of high school, it was announced over the loudspeaker that from now on the Pledge of Allegiance was to be said every Monday for the rest of the year. My only question was, why now and never before? My thoughts were that this must be to advertise nationalism and patriotism as a consequence of the disaster on September 11, 2001. However, among my peers there was another issue to be discussed: what about God? As a former Catholic school student, for years I prayed and said the Pledge of Allegiance in school; it was as common as peanut butter and jelly. What I did not realize at first was that not everyone believes in God.

A nation could not be labeled as “the home of the free” when it was also “one nation, under God.” “Under God” is a religious statement and should not be recited in a pledge that is said by all American citizens, including those who may believe in other gods or may not believe in a god at all. Being Catholic, the mention of God does not offend me, but being a United States citizen, having the public recite something that is not in their beliefs or against their religion does bother me. Are we not the home of the free?

Luiza is a gradate of Santa Clara High School in California. She plans to attend the University of California, Davis. She plans to major in psychology with the goal of achieving a Ph.D. in that field and establishing her own practice.

A Modest Proposal

By Emily Gundlach 

Editor’s note: Emily’s essay is a satirical piece, “inspired by Jonathan Swift,” which does not lend itself to excerpting. However, the judges wanted her to receive an honorable mention award for creativity and originality. Emily graduated from Charlotte Valley Central School in New York. She has applied to and been accepted by SUNY Oneonta and plans to attend that school in the fall. She is especially interested in English, writiing and law. Her major will be either English or Pre-Law.

Freedom From Religion Foundation