First Amendment

Maryland Elementary School Tries To Force Students To Say The Pledge

Students have a constitutional right to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, no matter what school officials think.


It's been over 80 years since the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that schoolchildren can't be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance. One Maryland elementary school, however, has yet to get the memo.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a First Amendment nonprofit, Twin Ridge Elementary School officials sent an email on April 26 informing staff that state law requires "all students and teachers are required 'to stand and face the flag and while standing give an approved salute and recite in unison the pledge of allegiance.'" 

But the email failed to note that there is a clear exception to this requirement encoded in state law—not to mention a decades-old Supreme Court ruling. Maryland law explicitly states that "any student or teacher who wishes to be excused from the requirements" of the pledge law would be excused.

"While non-participation may upset others who believe the pledge is an important expressive act, that reaction cannot overcome the First Amendment's protection of those who decide to abstain," Stephanie Jablonsky, a senior program officer at FIRE, wrote in a legal letter to the school last week. "Peaceful refusal to endorse a specified viewpoint cannot be grounds for punishment. The same holds for teachers and staff."

FIRE has called on Twin Ridge Elementary to "correct its April 26 directive and notify staff of their rights and their students' rights" to not recite the pledge.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that public schools have attempted to force students and staff to say the Pledge of Allegiance in recent years.

In 2018, officials in a Texas school district settled with a student who was expelled for refusing to stand for the pledge. But before the case was over, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton publicly took the school's side and attempted to intervene on their behalf in the federal case.

"School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge," Attorney General Paxton said in a press release at the time. "Requiring the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day has the laudable result of fostering respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country." 

Other government officials have been more than happy to help schools unconstitutionally force students to say the pledge.

Last year, the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill that aimed to force students to recite the pledge daily. While the bill contained a provision allowing parents to permit children to sit out, it—illegally—did not allow children to make that decision themselves.

"We stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day on this floor. What's good for us is good for the children,"  Rep. Barbara Parker (R–Mesa), a sponsor of the bill, said during a hearing.