Pledge of Allegiance

Do I (or my child) have to participate in the religious Pledge of Allegiance in my public school?

No. You (or your child) have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Nor should a student be singled out, rebuked, told they must stand, or otherwise be penalized for following their freedom of conscience. Nor should students who participate in the pledge, or who volunteer to lead the class in the pledge or to recite it over the intercom, be rewarded or favored over students who don’t participate.

Even before “under God” was belatedly added to the Pledge of Allegiance, it was objected to by Jehovah’s Witnesses (who won’t swear patriotic or other oaths).

After divisive court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an eloquent ruling in 1943, which is the prevailing law today, assuring students they do not have to recite or participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge under dispute in the case was accompanied by a “stiff-arm” salute. Students who did not salute were found guilty of “insubordination” and could be expelled. The Court ruled such abuses unconstitutional.

“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.

“We think the actions

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.”

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

Many school districts and states, post-9/11, began requiring daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. This has created divisiveness. The Freedom From Religion Foundation encourages school districts which are required to make students recite the Pledge of Allegiance to emulate the wisdom of the Madison, Wis. Metropolitan School District. Following student protests when a daily pledge was required by a new law, the school district adopted a disclaimer which is read over the PA system in every school prior to the recitation of the pledge, pointing out that America is a free country, and that students do not have to stand or participate.

Sit Down for Your Rights!

Since the Pledge of Allegiance is usually read over the PA system in most schools, it is important that the rights of students who do not want to participate are protected. Following widespread objections by students and their parents when a new law dictated a daily Pledge of Allegiance (or playing of the national anthem), the school board in Madison, Wis., adopted a policy to preface the recitation of the Pledge with this daily reminder:

“We live in a nation of freedom. Participation in the pledge (or anthem) is voluntary. Those who wish to participate may stand; others may remain seated.”

Ask your school district to adopt a similar policy, which not only respects the rights of all students, but teaches all students the meaning of individual civil rights.

What to Do If Your Rights Are Violated

Make a fuss! The law is on your side.

If you or your parents have complained about compulsory participation in the Pledge of Allegiance, but your school district has not stopped violating your rights, you may contact us here. Please provide specific and complete contact information about the offending principal, school, and school district, and provide a short recap of the nature of the violation, how your rights have been violated and what you have done so far to try to end it.

What About Having to Recite “Under God”?

The constitutionality of inserting “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance is under litigation.

Michael Newdow, M.D., has brought several cases. Historically, on June 26, 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (with jurisdiction over most northwestern states) ruled in his favor that the insertion of “under God” in a government-prescribed pledge was unconstitutional. Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, a 79-year-old Nixon Court appointee, wrote in the decision: “A profession that we are a nation ‘under God’ is identical to a profession that we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god.’ ” The addition of “under God” in the pledge forces schoolchildren to swear allegiance to “monotheism,” Goodwin wrote, impermissibly taking a position on the “existence and identity of God.” The court decision unleashed a fury of religious protests, including by many in Congress, to their lasting shame.

In a supportive letter published in The New York Times on July 14, 2002, Sally Wright, the great-granddaughter of pledge composer Francis Bellamy, wrote that he was a “deeply religious man” but “also a strict believer in the separation of church and state, who opposed parochial schools on the grounds that the state should educate its children.” She added: “He intended the pledge to be a unifying statement for those same children.”

“I believe that my great-grandfather got it right. A Pledge of Allegiance that does not include God invites the participation of more Americans.”

Newdow’s case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme court, which in a cop-out in 2004, ruled that Newdow as the noncustodial parent did not have standing to bring the lawsuit. A new case by Newdow is once again before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is also challenging the recitation of the pledge in New Hampshire schools, in a case brought with Dr. Newdow and plaintiff-members.

Some Background History

A secular Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was first published in a national magazine, Youth’s Companion, on September 8, 1892 in connection with the National Public Schools Celebration of Columbus Day in October of that year. During the celebration of 1892, more than 12 million public school students around the country “took the Pledge.” Composed by Rev. Francis Bellamy, a prominent Boston socialist, the original wording read: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Congress in 1954 passed House Joint Resolution 243, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower (Public Law 396, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session), which amended the language by adding the words “under God.”

The addition of “under God,” which spoiled the pledge’s cadence, was urged by religionists, including the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s club. The religious amendment was intended to repudiate the “godlessness” of Communism during the Cold War.

In signing the Act of Congress, Eisenhower said: “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty,” a statement cited by appeals court Justice Goodwin in the first Newdow case to show that the policy and the law “fails the coercion test.”

Many students today do not know that the pledge they have repeated is different from the one their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents learned. It is time to restore the original pledge!

Freedom From Religion Foundation