Students in one local school district do not have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance if they donít want to. Itís a policy change that even the superintendent doesnít agree with, so why did the district do it?
In this town of 3,600 people, thereís an American flag around just about every street corner and for school kids, the daily routine of standing up and saying the Pledge has never been questioned until now.
ďThey refused to say the Pledge and everyoneís talking about it,Ē said student Cherissh Garrett.
She is a classmate of the two students that have become the talk of Sweeny. The high school seniors did not want to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, something that the school district required.
Folks, this matter was decided by the Supreme Court, at the height of WWII ó the government may not require any American to profess by word or action that which they do not believe.
Whether the First Amendment to the Constitution will permit officials to order observance of ritual of this nature does not depend upon whether as a voluntary exercise we would think it to be good, bad or merely innocuous. . . . Hence validity of the asserted power to force an American citizen publicly to profess any statement of belief or to engage in any ceremony of assent to one presents questions of power that must be considered independently of any idea we may have as to the utility of the ceremony in question.
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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. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.
We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.
Those are the words of Justice Robert Jackson, in West Virginia v. Barnette, the 1943 ruling which held that students (or any other America) may not be compelled to pledge to or salute the flag ó and that would certainly include a requirement to stand. And lest you call Jackson a liberal, please remember that he was the mentor to the undeniably conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist ó who in turn was the mentor to our current Chief Justice, John Roberts.
What disturbs me in this case is not that students will be permitted to sit during the pledge (provided they do not create an active disruption, which means they must be silent), but that there was still a school district attempting to impose this requirement some seven decades after it became a matter of settled law that such a policy violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.
If anything, this incident confirms in my mind the belief that we need to eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance from our schools and public ceremonies. Instead, folks should be pledging themselves instead to the US Constitution, and the principles it guarantees. The only problem with that, however, is that many of the putative patriots professing outrage over someone failing to stand for the Pledge would be unable to take that pledge, due to their having a greater devotion to a mass-produce piece of cloth than they do to the principles upon which this nation stands.