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Student, school challenge Pennsylvania patriotism law

By The Associated Press

02.10.03

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PHILADELPHIA — A high school sophomore and a private school in Harrisburg are suing to overturn a state law that requires public and private school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem each morning.

The law was scheduled to take effect Feb. 7, but lawyers for the state Department of Education agreed to delay enforcement pending a federal court hearing this week, an American Civil Liberties Union official said on Feb. 6.

"We've been getting calls all day from teachers and principals who are just waking up to the fact that there's a new requirement," said Stefan Presser, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit was filed Feb. 6 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia by high school sophomore Max Mishkin of suburban Philadelphia; the Circle School, a private school in Harrisburg with no set curriculum or tests; and a teacher at the school.

"The school's pedagogical orientation is such that they want the students to think for themselves," Presser said.

The school does not object to patriotism, only to being required to lead students in the pledge or anthem, Presser said.

The law does allow schools to opt out of the requirement for religious reasons, but not for secular reasons. It also permits students to decline on the basis of religious conviction or personal belief, but their parents must be notified. The ACLU had said that it believes the parental notification requirement would discourage students from exercising their right not to participate.

The law also requires the American flag to be displayed in every classroom when school is in session.

"The flag requirement is not a focus of this litigation in the same way that the compelled speech is," Presser said. He said he believed the state Department of Education would not be enforcing that requirement until this week's hearing, either.

Officials from the press office of the Pennsylvania Department of Education had no immediate reaction for this story.

More than 25 states require the pledge to be recited during the school day, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit national association of state education officials. Several more encourage schools to conduct the pledge.

Last June, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the phrase "under God," inserted by Congress in 1954, amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the separation of church and state. The court barred the pledge from being recited with the words "under God" in public schools in the nine Western states the court covers.

Related

Pennsylvania Senate passes patriotism bill
Measure would require students in public, private schools to recite Pledge or sing national anthem daily.  11.17.02

Utah lawmaker pushes mandatory pledge bill
Measure to require weekly recitations at secondary schools would allow students to opt out of oath only if they have parental permission.  02.04.03

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