Thursday, August 11, 2005

Preserving The Pledge Of Allegiance

It appears as though state laws requiring public school classrooms to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag are safe for the time being: (emphasis are added)
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Virginia's requirement that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance everyday in the classroom is constitutional. Sterling resident Edward R. Myers filed the lawsuit that gained national attention and he has two options for appeal.

Virginia Attorney General Judith W. Jagdmann issued a press release Wednesday stating that the 4th Circuit ruled the pledge is not a religious exercise, -but a patriotic one,- and therefore does not violate the establishment clause.

"I am pleased that the 4th Circuit has recognized 'that acknowledgements of religion by government simply do not threaten to establish religion,'" Jagdmann said. "I am also pleased that the Court approved of Loudoun County's implementation of the pledge statute."

Myers, 46, has three sons ages 11, 8 and 4. He filed the lawsuit in 2002 and the software engineer acted as his own attorney, as he is currently doing in a lawsuit he filed this year against Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson for changing his force's uniform colors without state approval. A Mennonite, Myers has said the crux of his lawsuit was that he objects to schools "yoking patriotism and religion" by promoting what he described as a "God and Country civil religion."

"The issue is simply whether a daily classroom recitation of the Pledge in public schools is unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent that forbids public schools from endorsing religion and coercing schoolchildren to affirm religious belief," Myers states on his Web page.

The dispute started in 1999 when Myers said his oldest child had entered the first grade and his child's school was unwilling to accommodate Myers' religious beliefs by allowing his children to be absent or use the computer with headphones while the class recited the pledge. Myers says on his Web page that he does not dispute that government can promote a secular civil religion in schools because his children can decline to participate.

A district judge had dismissed the case and Myers appealed.
Not too many years after I started teaching junior high school in southern California, one of my students (who was born in Los Angeles) decided that she wasn't going to stand or recite the flag pledge because she was "Mexican." I was well-aware that students may choose to not recite the flag pledge due to the Supreme Court's 1942 opinion which determined that children may exempt themselves from patriotic exercises for "religious reasons."

I referred the young lady to our principal for refusing to get to her feet during the morning recitation.

The principal, possibly nor wanting to risk an unpleasant controversy, sided with the student and indicated to me that students may refuse to do the Flag Pledge for any reason, and that they cannot be required to stand as to do so would acknowledge deference to the flag.

The only
applicable California statute (Ed. Code 52720) governing "patriotic exercises" in the schools reads: (emphasis added)

In every public elementary school each day during the schoolyear at the beginning of the first regularly scheduled class or activity period at which the majority of the pupils of the school normally begin the schoolday, there shall be conducted appropriatepatriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiathe FlagtheFlag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section.

In every public secondary school there shall be conducted daily appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy such requirement. Such patriotic exercises for secondary schools shall be conducted in accordance with the regulations which shall be adopted by the governing board of the district maintaining the secondary school.

Once upon a time, the applicable Board Policy of our district simply required that the teacher would lead the class in a daily recitation of the Pledge, but that policy has been changed to reflect the above Ed. Code statute.

Interestingly, some states, such as Virginia, require that classrooms salute the Flag, others, such as California, only recommend it.
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