Pressure to recite the Pledge breaches our freedom

The first day of school: a student rolls out of bed, shoving notebooks and writing utensils into his backpack for his first-period AP U.S. History class. Thirty minutes pass, and the student saunters to his seat past the red, white and blue flag. The bell rings — morning announcements from the loudspeaker follow. When the robotic voice says “Please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” the student glances around, meeting several of his peers’ unsure glances, before forcing himself to stand to recite the demanding pledge.

From the moment they enter preschool, students in the U.S. are routinely led in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. One might assume that this practice is foundational to education and U.S. patriotism, proving no actual harm done, but that is incorrect. Pressuring students to participate in reciting America’s oldest beliefs is not only a breach of trust and respect, but free will.

The root of the problem is that it is a clear violation of the same ideas preached by our country’s founders and protected by our Constitution.

The First Amendment guarantees Americans freedom of speech, which does not include pressuring people to say things they may not want to. Even with this safeguard in place, 40% of students still report feeling obligated to say the pledge, according to Gallup, a global analytics firm. In other words, nearly 2.4 million children feel pressured not to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Since the twentieth century, there have been court cases that ruled both in favor and against the coercion of people — specifically students — to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

In the early twentieth century, the Supreme Court case Minersville School District v. Gobitis established the ability of public schools to require students to salute the flag and say the pledge. It was not until 1943, in the Supreme Court case Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, that students’ rights were minimally returned; by allowing students to refrain from reciting the pledge yet still including a voluntary recitation before learning, students were then able to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to chant a pledge known since preschool. In a formal statement at the conclusion of the case, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson claimed that “no official … can prescribe what shall be orthodox” in religion, personal opinion or the courtroom.

Later, as one of the most recent and widely publicized Supreme Court cases regarding the pledge, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow highlighted the inequalities faced by those who believe in a religion other than Christianity (the belief of the Founding Fathers) or those who do not practice religion at all. Newdow argued that requiring students to recite and listen to the line “under God” (added in 1954 by President Eisenhower) violates the freedom from state religion rights of students who do not believe in God, but the Court ruled in favor of the religious phrase in June 2004. Students feeling obligated to speak the religiously motivated phrase — no matter their religious beliefs and political values — further spotlights the clear violation of citizens’ ability to determine what they want to believe and speak to the public.

Some may argue that although there is an expectation of compliance in reciting the pledge, there is no actual violation of any rights, as students are not being consciously forced to stand and recite. But this pressure instilled within the education system is not about forcing students to submit to national values — the issue is about protecting students from the culturally insensitive morals of our Founding Fathers. Students — nay, people — should not have to feel guilty for conforming to the expectations first formed in the U.S. centuries before, which are both outdated and closed-minded.

Instilled in Americans from a young age, the forced delivery of a historically narrow and biased pledge in public schools strips U.S. citizens of their recognition and free will.

28 thoughts on “Pressure to recite the Pledge breaches our freedom

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