High Court Lets Stand Ill. Law Requiring Pledge in Schools

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WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to review the constitutionality of an Illinois law requiring that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited in schools.

The High Court on June 1 let stand without comment a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that the law does not create an unconstitutional government establishment of religion because of the inclusion of the phrase, "one Nation under God.''

The three-judge appeals-court panel had also ruled last November that the law does not violate a 1943 High Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that overturned a state rule compelling students to recite the pledge.

The appeals court held that the1979 Illinois law refers only to "willing students,'' even though the law states that the pledge "shall be recited each school day by pupils'' in all elementary schools supported by state funds.

"School administrators and teachers satisfy the 'shall' requirement by leading the pledge and insuring that at least some pupils recite,'' the appeals court said.

The state has the right to proscribe a patriotic curriculum, the panel added.

"So long as the school does not compel pupils to espouse the content of the pledge as their own belief, it may carry on with patriotic exercises,'' it said.

Robert I. Sherman, an atheist, challenged the pledge law on behalf of his son, Richard, who attended a school in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling where the pledgewas recited each day.

Officials at Wheeling Elementary School said in court documents that they never required Richard Sherman to recite the pledge, nor did they penalize him for refusing to do so.

But the Shermans objected to the pledge law primarily on religious grounds. Because of the pledge's reference to God and the appearance that all students had to recite it, the law violated the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion and its guarantee of free exercise of religion, the Shermans argued.

"Here, a 1st grader was put to the terrible choice of resisting the considerable social and peer pressure to participate in'' the pledge or else "reciting a slogan ... which is anathema to his 'religious' beliefs,'' the Shermans said in their appeal to the High Court.

The Seventh Circuit Court, however, held that the reference to "one Nation under God'' was a form of "ceremonial deism'' that did not violate the establishment clause because it "has lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.''

The appeal was Sherman v. Community Consolidated School District 21 (Case No. 92-1377).

Other Action

In separate action last week, the High Court declined to revive a lawsuit filed by a Kansas man who charged that a high school principal refused to hire him as a teacher because of his perceived "homosexual tendencies.''

The Court let stand a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which threw out the lawsuit filed against the former principal of Wichita North High School.

A three-judge appeals-court panel last October left in limbo a federal district judge's ruling that had been hailed by gay-rights groups.

The district judge had ruled that homosexuals and perceived homosexuals constitute a class of citizens that deserve heightened legal scrutiny to determine whether they receive equal protection under the law.

The judge said the plaintiff's civil-rights suit had merit because the principal did not offer a rational basis for making a hiring decision based on perceived homosexuality.

The appeals court held that the principal was entitled to qualifed immunity from the suit, and thus it should have been thrown out. It did not address the district judge's ruling that homosexual status was a classification requiring heightened scrutiny.

The appeal was Jantz v. Muci (No. 92-1745).

Vol. 12, Issue 37

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