December 1st, 2008
02:34 PM ET

One nation indivisible, one town torn in two

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/01/pledge.jpg caption="Parents discuss the Pledge of Allegiance issue with Principal Michaela Martin at Woodbury Elementary School."]

Brian MacQuarrie
The Boston Globe

The Woodbury Village Store, the only one in town, welcomes hunters and other patrons with a hand-written sign that reads, "Shirt and pants and shoes required," in a snow-dusted North Country hamlet where many weathered homes are stooped with age.

Inside, the sleepy tableau seems frozen in time. But just up the hill, at the Woodbury Elementary School, an aggressive effort to return a daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance to its four small classrooms has pitted neighbor against neighbor, unsettled students and staff, and spawned a vitriolic burst of incendiary name-calling.

No one in this tiny community of 809 people can recall anything like it. And the rancor has settled so deeply into the psyche here that residents and school officials say the wounds might take years to heal.

"I can see the devastation of this. It's real, and it's palpable," said Mark Andrews, co-superintendent of schools.  At issue is whether the Pledge of Allegiance should be recited in the classroom every day by the 53 pupils in the 94-year-old school, just as it is believed to be in most elementary school classrooms across the country.

The move has been spearheaded by a retired Marine Corps major, who quickly gathered 310 signatures on a townwide petition after the Pledge of Allegiance, which used to be recited once a week in a schoolwide assembly, disappeared entirely in the spring.

"People were pulling the clipboard out of my hand and saying, 'That's disgraceful,' " said Ted Tedesco, a veteran of the Gulf War.

Conflicting definitions and questions of patriotism, values, and ideology have polarized the town, residents said, and longtime friendships have become one of the casualties of an issue that had hardly crossed anyone's mind until the petition surfaced.

"I've seen people in this town who have been friends for years that now won't speak to each other," said Jeff Kaiser, a nurse who lives on a 46-acre hilltop spread with his wife and two daughters, one of whom is a first-grader.

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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Monika

    Just another pitiful example of how out of touch with common sense people are. Patriotism is just another tool to divide people instead of uniting them and it certainly wouldn't belong in any school in any other country. Just like God doesn't belong in school or in politics or any government affairs.

    People can recite the Pledge of Allegiance or pray to God all they want in the privacy of their own home. It should certainly NOT be made a requirement in any public place. And NOBODY should be made to witness such acts in public either, even if they're not forced to participate. I for one am sick and tired of having people's convictions forced down my throat in this "land of the free".

    December 1, 2008 at 8:19 pm |
  2. Chris in Sarasota

    It's easy to put this town down for this argument, but it should be a national conversation – really. Stating "Just don't say it" is completely against the spirit under which this country was founded by Deist founding fathers who wanted NOTHING to do with religion and NO oaths sworn to any government or country. In fact, they risked their lives to come here and build a new life, and fought and died here, FIGHTING AGAINST those very things - God in the government and sworn oaths of allegiance.

    December 1, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  3. Carol

    Is this town located on another planet? Is this all they have to worry about? They are unaware of the actual problems facing the US and choose to argue over something so stupid!

    If you don't want your kids to say the Pledge, fine. If you do want them to say the Pledge, fine. Who cares. Will somebody please send these people a newspaper so they can learn that there is a big world outside of their little snowglobe.

    December 1, 2008 at 6:01 pm |
  4. Vickie MO.

    Although, I am not one of them. There are those who worship Satan. They have made him their god of worship. What, if, they wanted to pray to him in the school's, courtroom's, etc.? Our government would have to allow it. "Freedom of Religion." But, would you want your child to be forced to witness such a thing? This is something we should think about. No! I'm not ashamed of my God. But, I do believe in teaching children to pray before leaving their home. And, just because our government has put (God) in our "Pledge of Allegience." And, on our money. Doesn't mean that we are, an "Hollier than Thou" country.

    December 1, 2008 at 5:20 pm |
  5. Chris, Ohio

    This is a pretty pitiful reason to lose friends. In my childrens' school the Pledge of Allegiance is recited every day. I stand with the children and recite the pledge along with them. Every child should learn from grade school on, age appropriate of course, what the Pledge means. Have you ever gone line by line and thought about what it actually means? This is an oath of loyalty to the flag and the nation it represents. If the words "under God" offend your own personal beliefs, don't say them.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  6. Alicia

    While I do agree that this is a pretty stupid argument to lose friends over, I can understand the problem. Half of these children don't even know what the Pledge of Allegiance really means – why are they reciting an oath to a country that doesn't always care about them which is "under" a god they may not believe in? However, I don't see the harm in keeping the Pledge in school – participation optional, of course – and perhaps opening some dialogue about the meaning, purpose, and history of the Pledge. This community can compromise and turn the whole debacle into a learning experience for everyone.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:31 pm |
  7. Melissa, Los Angeles

    Have we all become so sensitive that we're going to ban things that doesn't apply to ourselves? As an Atheist I pledged my allegiance to the flag everyday as a child and I also wished others Merry Christmas and celebrated Easter (which in my case was all for the egg hunt and chocolate bunnies since I wasn't raised with a religion).

    I had one classmate who did not stand up for the Pledge due to religious reasons which was fine by the rest of the class. It takes a minute of the day so let the kids say it if they want.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:04 pm |
  8. Cindy

    I think this is just the most ridiculous argument that I have ever heard! What is the big deal in children saying the Pledge of Allegiance at school? It isn't hurting anyone. If those who don't believe in God don't want to say it then they don't have to. But making them all stop saying it just to please a few makes no sense.

    We need to stop trying to be so PC with everything.


    December 1, 2008 at 3:05 pm |