Pledging to instill patriotism
By freedomforum.org staff,
The Associated Press
Responding to calls for schools to display their patriotism, officials in several states have recently taken a fresh look at an old and sometimes controversial subject the Pledge of Allegiance.
- In Pennsylvania, the state House of Representatives has passed a measure requiring students to recite the pledge or sing the national anthem each day. The bill would also require classroom display of the U.S. flag.
- A suburban Minnesota school district that faced the loss of up to $100,000 in American Legion donations unless it required students to say the pledge decided to hold an optional pledge ceremony each day.
- The school board in Madison, Wis., voted to allow schools to offer the pledge, reversing an earlier decision that critics had denounced as unpatriotic.
- The Board of Education in New York City adopted a resolution to require all public schools to lead students in the pledge at the start of the school day and at all schoolwide assemblies and events.
Pledging in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania public school students would have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem each day, and classrooms would have to display the American flag, under a measure passed Oct. 16 by the state House.
The bill, which is now before the state Senate Education Committee, cleared the House, 200-1, with only state Rep. Babette Josephs, D- Philadelphia, voting against it.
Josephs, a liberal Democrat, said she was concerned that students and teachers who have religious or moral objections would be pressured into proving their patriotism.
"This is a burden on our children. It achieves nothing," Josephs said. "We have schools in our state that don't even have books. Let's work on the books, not the flags."
Under the bill, students would have to obtain written permission from their parents to be exempt from reciting the pledge or singing the anthem at the beginning of each school day, although the bill does not call for penalties for nonparticipation.
The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Alan Egolf, R-Cumberland, said he introduced the measure after talking to veterans who told him many schools no longer routinely recite the pledge.
Current regulations require only that a U.S. flag be displayed inside school buildings, but they do not specify that each classroom have a flag. Schools also are required to provide instruction about the flag and its meaning, but students are not required to recite the pledge.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that forcing students to recite the pledge violates free speech and the establishment clause. Justice Robert Jackson wrote, "To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds."
Jackson also wrote that the First Amendment expressly prohibits public officials from bolstering patriotism by compelling flag salutes and pledge recitations.
Robert O'Neil, founder of the Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, told freedomforum.org that the question of whether the Pennsylvania proposal’s requirement that students seek parental permission to opt-out of the pledge is a “fascinating” one.
“In Barnette, which in 1943 struck down the pledge requirement, … the Supreme Court simply invalidated such a mandate on broad First Amendment grounds, not even considering the particular conscientious basis for the refusal, much less suggesting that schools could require requesting individual permission,” O’Neil said.
“Thus there is reason to believe … that the whole practice would be invalidated under Barnette, making individual requests for exemption irrelevant,” he said.
Allegiance, the Legion and money in Minnesota
In Minnesota, a suburban school district that faced the loss of up to $100,000 in American Legion donations unless it required students to say the Pledge of Allegiance has decided that an optional pledge ceremony will be held each day.
Independent School District 196 announced the decision at a press conference Oct. 17 at Apple Valley High School. The new policy started immediately as the student council led the school in the recitation.
Though students can elect not to participate, the district' s decision satisfied Legion Post 1776, Cmdr. Duane Glum said.
"We' re OK with it now," Glum said on Oct. 17. "The school board met with us last night and they gave me this: The Pledge of Allegiance shall be said every school day."
Glum had said Post 1776 would withhold the $80,000 to $100,000 it gives the district annually until the school board moved to require the pledge.
District Superintendent John Haro told reporters his schools plan to have students recite the pledge every day indefinitely.
"A lot of it depends on the world situation, but I hope it lasts forever, " he said. "We’re going to lead the way for patriotism for the nation and especially for Minnesota."
Matt Schweim, 17, a junior at Apple Valley High School, said he supported the new policy and didn’t think student patriotism would wane.
"Us doing something little as saluting the flag shouldn't be a big deal," Schweim said. "It’s the least we can do."
Haro insisted the Legion' s money was never an issue, and he also said the district' s upcoming $16.3 million levy referendum had no bearing on the decision.
But money is tight, said Apple Valley Principal Steve Degenaar, and his school and others in the district are in "a budget-cutting mode."
Haro said there was never a question of having students say the pledge, it was just a matter of taking the necessary steps to properly enact the policy.
Tony Taschner, spokesman for District 196, told freedomforum.org that the school board formally adopted the policy on Oct. 22, voting 7-0.
Taschner said the schools started being labeled unpatriotic after the Legion spoke out. "Once this became an issue we heard a lot of people say, ‘Just go ahead and do it,’ ” Taschner said.
Glum said the Legion was not making a threat.
Bob Schmidt, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, said if the district' s decision was based on the loss of money, "My personal opinion is that that's a form of blackmail that should not be tolerated.
"I understand where the Legion is coming from, and the amount of money they have been giving the district is substantial," Schmidt said. "But I don' t believe giving a gift to any organization or institution should be tied to somebody' s particular belief."
A push this spring in the Legislature to require the pledge in schools was defeated. The chief sponsor of the measure has vowed to try again next year.
Reversing course in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, the Madison School Board voted Oct. 16 to allow schools to offer the pledge, reversing an earlier decision that critics denounced as unpatriotic.
The board approved the change in a 6-to-1 vote after hearing about eight hours of testimony from residents reacting to its decision the previous week to bar the pledge and allow only an instrumental version of "The Star- Spangled Banner" in classrooms.
The new policy allows the singing of the national anthem, too.
"For a few minutes every morning, everyone joins in an exercise that I believe binds us together," said one school board member, Ray Allen.
The 800-seat auditorium at Madison Memorial High School was overflowing Oct. 15 with citizens wanting to express their opinion.
The previous week, the board ruled out the pledge or the singing of the anthem as a way for schools to comply with a new state law that calls for a daily display of patriotism, either the pledge or the national anthem, in schools. Instead, schools were to use an instrumental version.
Supporters of that policy had suggested the lyrics to the national anthem were too militaristic, and complained about the "one nation, under God" line in the pledge, saying the religious words did not belong in public schools.
"I don't think the pledge is about religion," Allen said. "I think it is a commitment to our democracy."
The district received more than 20,000 phone calls and e-mail messages over the matter, most of them critical of the initial decision.
Before the meeting started, many in the crowd spontaneously began reciting the pledge, with the majority standing as some scattered boos were heard. After finishing the oath, supporters broke into applause, waving American flags.
Under the new policy, schools that decide to have the pledge recited or the anthem sung will start with an announcement reminding pupils that participation is voluntary. But critics said some children might feel pressure to take part.
Outside the meeting, several parents led by former state Rep. Scott Klug, a Republican, said they intended to seek the recall of some or all of the board members.
The board member who wrote the original motion, Bill Keys, said his primary concern was making certain that students of all religions and backgrounds were comfortable in the classroom. Keys was the only board member to vote against rescinding the measure.
Meanwhile, the district attorney in Madison is investigating whether the school district's deletion of e-mails relating to the school board's decision to prohibit students from saying the pledge was legal.
Phillip Prange, a Republican fund-raiser, filed an open records request asking that all the e-mail sent to the school district about the controversy be forwarded to him.
Concerns about immigrants in New York
In New York City, the school board unanimously adopted a resolution Oct. 17 to require all public schools to lead students in the pledge at the start of each school day and at all schoolwide assemblies and events.
The New York Times reported the resolution states that students and staff will neither be compelled to participate nor disciplined if they choose not to recite the pledge. The newspaper also reported that the resolution was essentially a copy of a current state education law.
Schools Chancellor Harold Levy was quoted by the newspaper as saying that he supported the resolution but warned that citizens have a responsibility to guard against discrimination and to tolerate dissenting views.
The newspaper also reported that the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Donna Lieberman, in criticizing the proposal, noted that many non-citizens were in the school system and that they are likely "to be scapegoated or targeted for harassment" if they do not participate.
Lieberman said in an Oct. 18 letter to Levy: “As the Board incorporates the Pledge of Allegiance into the school routine, it must also protect the values ‘for which it stands’ and abide by not just the letter, but the spirit of the constitutional protection of free speech and religion.”
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