Pledging Student Reprimanded
November 13th, 2002
It was third period on Tuesday, October 8, when the speaker system crackled to life in Dawn Vollaro’s math class. Some students stood and repeated the familiar lines of the Pledge of Allegiance. Others stood and said nothing. A few sat in silence. Yet sophomore Hudson Williams-Eynon sat and recited a different pledge—The Pledge of Resistance.
The Pledge of Resistance, written by Not in Our Name (NION), a popular anti-war organization, is an oath of resistance to “endless war, detentions and roundups, attacks on civil liberties and war on Iraq,” according to their website, notinourname.net. Many famous figures, including Martin Luther King III, Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover have also signed NION’s Statement of Conscience, a call for all Americans to resist violence in the Middle East and to protect their own rights as citizens.
According to Williams-Eynon, Vollaro spoke to him afterwards and told him he could not recite the NION pledge during the Pledge of Allegiance because it was against school regulations. When he repeated the pledge again the next day, Vollaro sent him to Assistant Principal of Mathematics Daniel Jaye.
According to Board of Education regulations, students may stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sit quietly, but are not permitted to create any sort of disturbance. Jaye told Williams-Eynon he could “make his statement” at a more appropriate time, but not during the Pledge. When Williams-Eynon argued that his pledge was an expression of free speech, Jaye told him, “There are limits to free speech. You can't shout fire in a crowded theater.” Jaye made a comparison with “reciting an oral Hindu prayer during Catholic mass, which would offend parishioners,” and told Williams-Eynon that he would be in danger of receiving a principal's suspension if he continued disobeying the rules.
"I said the Pledge of Resistance because I feel that when everyone stands to say the Pledge of Allegiance, they’re blindly condoning the actions taken by the U.S. government without actually thinking about the implications. I felt that I would be doing them a favor if I opened their minds a bit, and provided them with an alternative viewpoint. The best way to do it was to recite the Pledge of Resistance,” said Williams-Eynon.
“In an educational institution, free speech has its limitations, because we must protect the community from hurtful or inappropriate statements,” said Jaye. “It was offensive that he was interrupting other students… Even if he were singing ‘Yankee Doodle,’ it would have been just as inappropriate, although just as patriotic [as the Pledge of Allegiance].” Vollaro declined to comment on the incident.
“There’s a big difference between singing ‘Yankee Doodle’ and not supporting a war,” said senior and Stuyvesant Student Action Coalition member Ted Fertik. “Who is he harming? He’s not insulting anyone saying the pledge.”
Freshmen Erica Toth agrees with Williams-Eynon’s anti-war sentiments, but feels that his timing was inappropriate. “If he were to say the Pledge of Resistance at another time, like at a student gathering, it would be okay,” she said.
Although he has faced much criticism, Williams-Eynon stands firmly by his beliefs. “I think making everyone respect the Pledge of Allegiance is just as bad as making everyone say it. Making everyone who doesn't want to say it sit down and not talk is forcing them to accept it as something that’s legitimate and inviolable,” he said. “It’s like they’re saying the Pledge of Allegiance is too sacred to be challenged or disrespected. They’re making people recognize it to be something sacrosanct and untouchable even if we don’t agree with it.”