Westhampton Beach High School has been the site of a...

Westhampton Beach High School has been the site of a debate on a student's right to express herself. Credit: Newsday/Erin Geismar

On April 9, Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday issued a call for unity, saying the district "does not tolerate racism, cyberbullying or unkind words or actions" after some students reacted negatively to a video posted online through the TikTok app showing a classmate who sat for the Pledge of Allegiance in protest.

That student was Kylah Avery, 16, who wrote to Newsday to explain her motivation for sitting down during the pledge:

I am the student who sat for the pledge. The reason I did this is because there is not "liberty and justice for all." There is severe inequality throughout the nation, and I find it wrong to stand and pledge my allegiance to a country that doesn’t see me as an equal due to my Native American heritage, my African heritage and my gender. Additionally, the pledge also mentions all "under God," which I see as disrespectful to all of the individuals who either don’t believe in God or just aren’t Christian.

The United States is called "a melting pot" where everyone can exchange and express their ideas, cultures and religions without government muffling their voices. What many others and I are seeing and experiencing is that none of that is true right now. What the pledge promises is being contradicted, and government is condoning it.

I will not stand for a pledge riddled with false promises. Forcing me to stand is unconstitutional and frankly, it reminds me of a cult. Forced allegiance and patriotism is not and will never be true allegiance and patriotism.

The same people who find it disgusting that North Korean citizens are forced to pledge to their leader are the same people threatening me if I don’t stand and pledge. The people telling me that I’m disrespecting the military or veterans obviously don’t understand the true nature of the pledge and most likely don’t support the 40,000 homeless veterans. The men and women who died in war fought for my right to choose to sit.

In my opinion, the principal of my school, Christopher Herr, handled the situation very well and ensured my safety, mental health and right to sit.

I wanted to add to a recent news article about my situation and share my reasoning with the community. I felt the responsibility to speak out because of my previous life experiences and the fact that many people are too scared to. Though they may feel the same way as I do, they care about others’ opinions, and that is completely OK and valid. I feel as if I needed to be the voice of many others, to make waves in the still pond, in order to both spread awareness and inspire people to also find their voice. It all starts with one.

My mother raised me to be strong, brave, resilient and unshakable, and those characteristics have carried me through life so far and they’re carrying me through this unnecessarily difficult journey.

I want to thank all of the people who have reached out in support and those who support me in silence.

Kylah Avery is a sophomore at Westhampton Beach High School.