As a South Portland resident and proud American citizen, I find the recent controversy at South Portland High regarding students being told by the senior class president that they can opt out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance “if they want to,” citing freedom of speech as her reasoning, to be particularly disturbing.

Those against students saying the pledge state that the words “under God” are a violation of church and state and that religion shouldn’t be forced on anyone. As an agnostic, I’m open-minded enough to realize that these two words can mean anything to anybody – a God of any given religion or the God of self if you’re an atheist or agnostic.

Every incoming American citizen has to say the pledge before receiving citizenship, often with tears in their eyes out of pride and a great love for this country. The president ends every speech with “God bless the United States of America,” and our currency says “In God we trust” on it.

This isn’t propaganda for the Catholic Church; it’s part of the fabric of this nation – that something greater than ourselves, whatever that might be, binds us together as countrymen. It’s why the word “Creator” is in the Declaration of Independence.

I realize that in today’s hypersensitive, cynical culture, people are grasping at straws to find new things to complain about, but to say that it’s acceptable for students to choose not to say the pledge because of a free speech issue is about as strong an argument as students saying they don’t have to answer questions in class because it violates their First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment states: “The United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law abridging the freedom of speech.” That is not the case here. The pledge is not mandatory by law, nor should it be. People should have enough respect for themselves as American citizens and for their country to say the words and actually mean them – something that appears to be lost on some of this generation.