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From Draft NOtices, January-February 2002

Resisting the Pledge

— Lorraine Demi

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 school’s 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. COMD’s "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

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 COMD’s "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 Women’s Environment and Development Organization of the Women’s Foreign Policy Council’s "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,

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,; Women’s Foreign Policy Council’s Women’s Environment and Development Organization, e-mail:

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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