As the students recited, teacher Anne Daigle-McDonald took the boy's wrist and placed his hand over his heart. He protested, pulling his arm down, and reminded her he was a Jehovah's Witness.
"You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag," Daigle-McDonald said, according to a statement the boy gave to a school administrator.
The next day, Daigle-McDonald again placed the boy's hand over his heart.
She then addressed the class.
"In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can't do the pledge," several students told a school administrator, according to a report. "If you can't put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country."
The fourth-grader, of course, likely knows a lot more about his own religion than his teacher does.
A 2005 DOJ memo on the constitutionality of the Postal Service’s oath of office does explain the government’s belief that a requirement to “affirm” (but not “swear”) an oath to the Constitution does not violate religious belief, largely because it “requires only that a person abide by the nation’s constitutional system of government and its laws.”
Daigle-McDonald, who sounds like an ignoramus, was probably not referring to this, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in fact, were among the first Americans to object to “the contradiction inherent in a compulsory oath lauding individual liberty,” as Greg Beato wrote for Reason in 2010. The Jehovah’s Witnesses efforts against the mandatory pledge culminated in a 1940 Supreme Court decision, Minersville v. Gobitis, that ruled schools could force Jehovah’s Witnesses to recite the pledge. The decision, Beato notes, was followed by tar and featherings, public beatings, and even the castration of one Jehovah’s Witness in Nebraska. The plainly wrong decision was overturned by the Supreme Court just three years later.
Today, young children are largely free to decline to pledge allegiance to the flag, except when, for example, they’re being bullied by their teachers. Now, the fight over the pledge of allegiance is over the inclusion of the phrase “under God,” added in the 1950s. Ronald Bailey wrote about the recent skirmishes in that battle, and how it squares with a statute-mandated “voluntary” pledge in the first place, which you can read here, and read Greg Beato’s “Face the Flag” on the history of the pledge of allegiance, penned by a Christian Socialist who believed in forcible wealth redistribution, here.