To Pledge or Not to Pledge


PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
Students salute the flag around 1941. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that schools are not allowed to force students to stand and recite the Pledge. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The Pledge of Allegiance is usually recited in classrooms at the beginning of every school day. How did the practice start?

History of the Pledge
The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas. In reciting the Pledge, children were to give the flag a military salute with “right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it.”

This flag salute was the norm in schools until 1942. At that time, it looked too much like the salute of the U.S.’s World War II enemy, Nazi Germany. This is when the hand-over-the-heart salute was introduced.

Legal Challenges
For religious reasons, Walter Barnette, a Jehovah’s Witness, refused to allow his children to salute the flag and say the Pledge because he didn’t believe in swearing loyalty to a power other than God. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Barnette’s favor.

In 2006, a federal district court in Florida ruled that a state law requiring students to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance violated the U.S. Constitution. Cameron Frazier, a high school student, said that he did not want to recite or stand during the Pledge each morning because of his personal political beliefs. He was teased and called “unpatriotic” by a teacher.  As a result of the court’s decision, a Florida school district was ordered to pay Cameron $32,500.

“The law is crystal-clear that a public school cannot embarrass or harass a student for maintaining a respectful silence during the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney for the legal organization, the American Civil Liberties Union.

Students can read the text of the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision here from Rethinking Schools.

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