April 30, 2012

Why Are We Dealing With This Again?

The law on such matters is settled – and has been for seventy years.

A Brownsville Area Middle School student who was disciplined repeatedly for refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance sued that school district today, demanding changes in policy and monetary damages.

According to the complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union, the 13-year-old eighth grader -- identified in the complaint by her initials N.B. -- has been given lunch detention and multiple in-school suspensions in recent weeks for refusing to stand during the Pledge.

The ACLU said in its complaint that forcing a student to stand during the Pledge violates free speech rights.

"Due to personal beliefs regarding the state of the country, N.B. does not wish to stand" during the Pledge, the complaint said. A homeroom teacher told her that reflected "disrespect for all the soldiers dying for her overseas," and continued refusals brought discipline.

The student's mother, Carolyn Raja, complained to school officials, but they backed the discipline.

Dumb move by the school. It is really quite simple. Students do not have to say the Pledge of Allegiance. They do not have to adopt a particular posture to show respect for the flag. The Supreme Court ruled as such in 1943, in the midst of WWII, in West Virginia Sate Board of Education v. Barnette, which held that compulsory participation in a flag salute ritual violates the First Amendment rights of those whose participation is compelled by government officials (including school employees). That the student’s classroom teacher was unaware of this decision is disturbing – that the school and district administrators did not know of it is beyond the realm of belief, for it is taught in every preparation program for school administrators that I am aware of. As such, it is my hope that those involved are deemed to have personal liability for their violation of the civil liberties of this student – whose decision not to stand for the pledge I view to be every bit as wrong as it is constitutionally protected.

And I'll reiterate what I said when I wrote on a similar controversy about a year ago.

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.

Here's hoping that I never have to deal with such unpatriotic unprofessionalism by my fellow educators again.

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