When his Wallace Middle School classmates stand, hand over heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Manuel "Manny" Martinez stays silently in his seat.

The Vineland seventh grader insists that Donald Trump's election has made it impossible for him to continue saluting the American flag in good conscience.

"It's supposed to stand for freedom and equality," says Martinez, 13.

"With Trump as the face of our country, it's not the same. He makes fun of people with special needs, and there are special-needs kids in our school. He disrespects women, and I respect all women.

"So I sit, respectfully, until [the pledge] is over."

New Jersey education and Vineland School District policies exempt students with conscientious objections from having to stand and recite the pledge.

Although Martinez has sat in silence every morning since his mother provided the district with her written permission for him to do so, the two said that a handful of Wallace teachers and other employees have made no secret of their displeasure.

"Students in my classroom supported me all the way, but there are certain teachers who don't respect me for it. One of them [questioned] my character."

"I knew there would be a backlash from some on the school staff," says his mother, Loretta Evans, who has spoken to and emailed school officials about her concerns.

"It would have been simple if they just let him exercise his right," adds Evans, 40, a food service employee at the Vineland Developmental Center.

"But some of them approached him on a personal level and made him feel like what he believes is wrong. That's bullying. That's intimidation."

Vineland Superintendent Mary L. Gruccio, assistant superintendent John W. Frangipani, and Wallace principal Juanita Davis say the matter has been resolved.

"Once the principal addressed the staff, all of the [remarks] stopped," says Gruccio, adding that "this child has every right not to salute the flag . . . and he has not been disrespectful."

Says Davis: "We have had discussions with all those staff members the student mentioned [as having] anything to say - and there are not going to be any more [remarks] with regard to him exercising his rights."

I meet Martinez at the Vineland apartment where he lives with his mother.

A serious young fellow who describes himself as an A-and-B student, he says he became interested in politics as the presidential campaign got underway in earnest this year.

He also loves football and is a fan of the San Francisco 49ers and their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to kneel in protest during the national anthem inspired other professional athletes to do the same.

"It may be that he gave me the idea" to sit down during the pledge, Martinez says.

"But it's something I want to do. It's my decision, and no one can change my mind about it.

"I know when I'm right and when I'm wrong. I'm not a person to really argue, unless I feel a certain type of way, unless I feel offended."

I've been reciting the pledge since Eisenhower was president, and I'm not about to stop.

But the flag I am proud to salute is a symbol with substance - about which American citizens can (and surely do) express disagreements.

Thus, a president-elect is free to tweet an ill-advised threat about criminalizing dissent, such as flag-burning.

And a 13-year-old like Manny Martinez with the strength of character to take an unpopular stand and act on his convictions is free to do so.

I don't necessarily agree with the method of protest chosen by this idealistic young man from Vineland.

But I applaud him.


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