Since September 11, 2001, schools across the U.S. have increased
the recitation of the "Pledge of Allegiance" in an effort
to enforce patriotism. Previously lax policies have become mandatory
in many school districts, making students feel pressured to pledge
allegiance to a country and a flag regardless of their personal,
religious or political beliefs.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has advised many school
districts in recent years on the constitutional rights of students
wishing not to pledge allegiance. When students at Mark Morris
High School in Washington State chose not to participate in the
schools daily recitation of the pledge, Washington ACLU
Legal Program Director Julya Hampton wrote in a 1998 letter to
the school: "In response to legal challenges brought by students,
the courts have uniformly upheld their right to remain quietly
seated during the pledge. . . . Students should not be compelled
to participate in the pledge by the symbolic act of standing,
or be compelled to leave the classroom because of their peaceful
expression of political beliefs."
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1943 (West Virginia State
Board of Education v. Barnette) that a compulsory flag salute
would violate students right to freedom of expression. The
Court proclaimed that a state cannot "prescribe what shall
be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters
of opinion" and that students cannot be compelled to affirm
their loyalty "by word or act." The Supreme Court also
decided in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District
that students do not "shed their Constitutional rights to
freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Due to these court decisions, students today are protected in
exercising their free speech rights in school and in their wish
to abstain from pledging allegiance for whatever reason.
Each state has different laws about free speech rights for students.
Your local ACLU office or state department of education can provide
information on local laws. COMDs "High School Students
Rights: What Every Student Should Know" brochure provides
specific information about possible restrictions such as speech
content guidelines; time, place and manner guidelines; and school
officials right to review materials ahead of distribution.
This brochure can be downloaded at www.comdsd.org/youth.htm.
Some states, like California, have special laws protecting the
free speech rights of students in public and private high schools.
The California Education Code (Sections 48907 and 48950) safeguards
your right to:
- hand out leaflets
- express yourself in school newspapers, yearbooks, and "underground"
or unofficial newspapers
- circulate petitions
- conduct polls
- set up information tables
- organize clubs and sponsor speakers and activities
- post notices and posters on school bulletin boards
- organize a peaceful rally or demonstration at your school
- wear buttons, badges, insignias, patches or armbands.
To practice free speech rights, students could do any of the
above, including distributing COMDs "High School Students
Rights" brochure at school or in youth groups. The tougher
question is how to refrain from, or reframe, the pledge to fit
your conscience. As discussed above, students have the right to
refrain from reciting the pledge, but you may also choose to reframe
the pledge instead. This could take two forms: you could stand
at the time of the pledge in your classroom, and recite an alternative
pledge on your own; or you could circulate an alternative pledge
to students and start a movement of like-minded youth. In some
states it is mandatory that students wishing to abstain from the
pledge sit quietly and not interfere with those students wishing
to pledge allegiance. Your local ACLU can inform you of local
laws and how they will impact your alternative pledge plans. If
you are interested in an alternative pledge that follows the cadence
of the "Pledge of Allegiance" and is non-sectarian and
globally focused, you could try something along these lines:
I pledge allegiance to humanity, and to each person for
which it stands, multiple nations, sharing peace, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
If you are interested in an alternative pledge that is more environmentally
focused, you could use the Womens Environment and Development
Organization of the Womens Foreign Policy Councils
"Pledge of Allegiance to the Family of Earth":
I pledge allegiance to the Earth and to the flora, fauna
and human life that it supports, one planet, indivisible, with
safe air, water and soil, economic justice, equal rights and
peace for all.
Or write your own alternative pledge! Please send any alternative
pledges you write or come across to Draft NOtices for future articles:
P.O. Box 15195, San Diego, CA 92175, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please contact the following organizations if you have any
questions about your rights as a student:
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004-2400
Student Press Law Center
1815 N. Fort Myer Drive, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22209
National Lawyers Guild
143 Madison Ave., 4th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Information sources: "High School Students Rights:
What Every Student Should Know" brochure, COMD[make this
a link to an anchor on our youth page]; American Civil Liberties
Union, Washington, http://www.aclu-wa.org;
Womens Foreign Policy Councils Womens Environment
and Development Organization, e-mail: email@example.com.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org).