Freethought Today · October 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Utah school pledges to follow Constitution

FFRF has notched a victory in Utah for the freedom of conscience.

FFRF was contacted by a concerned parent regarding a serious constitutional violation occurring in the state's Canyons School District. On the first day of school, Maureen Howe, a math teacher at Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah, singled out and rebuked a student for choosing to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. The complainant reported that when her child didn't stand for the pledge, Howe approached the child and told her she needed to be respectful and stand.

Howe's action was a violation of the Constitution, FFRF informed the Canyons School District.

"The Supreme Court ruled over 70 years ago that compelling a student to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance infringed upon a student's First Amendment rights," FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Canyons School District Superintendent James Briscoe.

FFRF added, "Multiple courts have reiterated that students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and that any punishment administered in reaction to a student exercising that right violates the Constitution."

That's why students may not be singled out, rebuked, told they must stand, or otherwise penalized for following their freedom of conscience, FFRF contended.

The school district has found FFRF's rationale so persuasive that it has made its own parallel case for the freedom to dissent in its response.

"Teachers need to teach students to show respect for any student who chooses not to participate by modeling that respect themselves," states the district's general counsel, Daniel Harper, in his reply.

The letter acknowledges that Utah state statutes and state board of education regulations forbid compelling a student to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Ms. Howe has indicated that she will no longer require students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in the future," the letter says. "Principal Leavitt has sent out an email to all of the teachers at Hillcrest High School reviewing Utah law regarding the Pledge of Allegiance."

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