Recently, two stories have brought renewed attention to the Pledge of Allegiance and students’ rights to choose whether not to recite the pledge in school.
First, a student at South Portland High School who leads the pledge every morning was told she cannot use the school’s intercom to advise students of their right to abstain. While school administrators are legally allowed to limit what students can and can’t say over the school’s intercom (see Eugene Volokh’s analysis here), we think they missed a valuable opportunity to educate students on the fundamental freedoms upon which the United States is built.
Then, we learned of a student at Belfast High School who was sent to the principal’s office after refusing to stand for the pledge. According to the student, school officials told the him that standing for the pledge is manadatory and failure to do so would result in punishment. This is most certainly a violation of the First Amendment – and the American Humanist Association rightly sent a letter to the administration advising them as such.
The fact is, the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that it is just as much a violation of your First Amendment rights for the government to make you say something you don't want to say as it is for the government to prevent you from saying what you do want to say. You have a right to remain silently seated during the pledge. Note, however, that if you decline to say the pledge that you do not have the right to disrupt the proceedings.
The ACLU has a long history of defending students’ right to decline to say the pledge. Here are just a few of the cases:
- 2003: ACLU Wins First Stage In Court: Students And Teachers Cannot Be Forced To Recite Pledge Of Allegiance
- 2004: Appeals Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania's Mandatory Pledge of Allegiance Law
- 2005: Following ACLU Action, Virginia Senate Committee Kills Bill Requiring Schools to Notify Parents When Students Refuse to Recite Pledge
- 2006: In Landmark Florida Case, ACLU Preserves Right of Students Not to Recite Pledge
- 2008: Vidor School District (Texas) Makes Pledge of Allegiance Optional After ACLU Challenge
The ACLU of Maine is here to stand up for your rights. If you or someone you know has faced backlash for exercising your right to decline to say the pledge, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.