School Climate & Safety

Students Protest Garner, Brown Outcomes by Not Saying Pledge of Allegiance

By Madeline Will — December 09, 2014 2 min read
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In the midst of national outcry about the police’s treatment of minorities, some students across the country are refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance in protest.

Last week, a grand jury in Staten Island did not criminally indict Daniel Pantaleo, the white police officer whose chokehold on Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American man who was unarmed, led to Garner’s death. And the week before, another grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson, who is also a white police officer, for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an unarmed African American 18 year old, in Ferguson, Mo.

Both cases have spurred mostly-peaceful protests across the country, as demonstrators rally against a legal system and police force that they feel is discriminatory against black people.

And that protest has trickled down into high schools, where students across the country are taking issue with the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to force students to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

But in some students’ tweets, they describe incidents where they are (or were in the past) reprimanded by their teachers for not saying the pledge.

This picture in particular has been making the rounds on Twitter in the last couple days:

For educators, as a wave of protests hits the country, now’s a good time to remember that students still have the right to free speech within school walls.

Students can hold peaceful demonstrations and protests during the school day, which can only be prohibited if the demonstrators’ conduct would significantly disrupt the school. The ACLU has a good breakdown of student rights in school.

ACLU attorney Lee Rowland told me that generally, most teachers know and respect that students do not have to stand for or recite the pledge. But from time to time, a case pops up. In 2011, the ACLU of Oregon received a complaint from an elementary school teacher that students were being forced to stand for the pledge. The state ACLU sent a letter to the district’s superintendent, who immediately responded with changing the practices of the school.

To students, Rowland says: “Know (your) rights, and if those rights are violated, inform someone who can remind the school that this is a 70-year-old First Amendment right.”

And for educators who want to incorporate students’ feelings of anger and protest into their lessons, Teaching Now has a good list of resources for talking about Ferguson (and now, Eric Garner) in the classroom.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.