This was me in Year 1 on the Gold Coast, although I didn’t start going to separate religion classes until the older grades.
This was me in Year 1 on the Gold Coast, although I didn’t start going to separate religion classes until the older grades.

I was the girl who sat for the anthem

KIDS can be cruel, but come on Australia. You're being ridiculous.

As a schoolgirl who stayed seated during the national anthem, I'm behind Harper Nielsen - the Brisbane nine-year-old who's being criticised for her "defiant" behaviour not standing for Advance Australia Fair.

Comments from radio shock jock Alan Jones, controversial commentator Mark Latham and even the likes of Karl Stefanovic make me furious.

As someone who knows how hard it can be being a little different to everyone else, I'm saying let's give Harper a break.

In primary school I went to separate Jehovah's Witness studies while the rest of my class did their usual religious education class.

When it came to school assembly, the few of us who took part in those studies would stay seated.

Even in strength through numbers, if you were ever too embarrassed to stay seated, when you stood and didn't sing you still stood out just as much when all the other kids around you were passionately delivering the words.

This was me in Year 1 on the Gold Coast, although I didn’t start going to separate religion classes until the older grades.
This was me in Year 1 on the Gold Coast, although I didn’t start going to separate religion classes until the older grades.

People would stare, ask questions. I even had one teacher tell me off for how ridiculous it was that I wasn't allowed to go to Anzac Day assembly, and he made me attend.

That's what also outrages me about Harper's story - her Kenmore South State School even gave her detention for her "blatant disrespect".

I don't think there's anything disrespectful for standing (or sitting in this case) for what you believe in.

Jehovah's Witnesses don't stand for the national anthem or acknowledge days of remembrance because, put simply, they don't believe in showing allegiance to your country instead of Jehovah (God).

They don't believe in idolising things such as flags and songs.

I know the words of the anthem, and even though I'm no longer a Jehovah's Witness (I was never baptised), I still don't sing it, simply because I learned things differently to everyone else growing up.

I don't believe there's anything wrong with that.

Harper made her decision because she believes Advance Australia Fair is not inclusive of indigenous Australians.

It started with The Courier-Mail breaking the story about the Year 4 student and how the school told her she had to stand or leave the building.

Poor Harper was told she could not leave the office until she had signed a written apology and that she could be suspended.

Mr Latham accused Harper of having a behaviour problem and said the school should kick her out. Jones said she was breaking the rules and if her family chose not to follow them she should go somewhere else.

Harper told The Courier-Mail the line in the national anthem, "for we are young and free", disregarded Aboriginals who had lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years and only saw Australia as a country post-colonisation.

Jones was incensed by this and said that "colonisation brought the kind of tremendous wealth that all Australians now enjoy".

I won't get into a debate about the beliefs of the religion I grew up with because I understand it's controversial to not commemorate your country.

And there are plenty of other reasons the Jehovah's Witness religion frustrates me - it's torn members of my family apart.

But what about when Anthony Mundine wouldn't stand for the anthem for his fight against Danny Green last year?

At the time's Joe Hildebrand pointed out Mundine was right. The national anthem is racist, or at least was.

The original last verse of the song, written by Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878, made it clear that the settlers of the Great Southern Land stood ready to defend the British bloodline from foreign invaders.

Jehovah's Witnesses first began refusing to salute national flags after the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s and started demanding everyone do it.

Many Witnesses refused and were beaten up for their trouble.

While we've come a long way since physical violence, have we really?

How progressive are we as a country if we can't allow our children growing up today to empower themselves to stand for something they truly believe in?

It's a long-debated issue, dating back to wartime, but at the end of the day freedom of speech trumps patriotism, especially for children.

So back off Harper, Australia. Being a kid, and doing something a bit differently to everyone else, is hard enough as it is.

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