Pledge of Allegiance (November 2018 School Leader Update)
Every once in a while I get questions about the legality of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools from a parent. The issue is almost always related to the sentence “one Nation under God.” Although a parent may feel this phrase is infringing on their religious rights the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled otherwise.
Nearly 70 years ago in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) the court held the states cannot compel citizens to stand, salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Court held the First Amendment protects both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all. Thus, it is a well-established constitutional right to remain seated or silent during the Pledge recitation. But what about the phrase “under God”?
Fast forward to 2004 where teachers in Elk Grove California were leading students in the recitation of the Pledge. The child in this case never took part in reciting the Pledge but wanted to prevent others from reciting it. A parent claimed the phrase “under God” offended her religious beliefs, interfered with her right to rear her child, and indoctrinated her child with religion. However, the Supreme Court disagreed finding that not every mention of God or religion by the state is a constitutional violation. Instead the constitution “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility towards any.” Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1 (2004). The Court also found that “the Pledge is a patriotic exercise designed to foster national unity and pride.” Therefore, the phrase “One Nation under God” did not transform a patriotic act into a religious one.
Thus, if you are a District that recites the Pledge of Allegiance each day in homeroom at the beginning of the school day you may continue this practice. However, districts are advised not to compel students to participate in recitation of the Pledge and to allow students to opt out of participation.