Friday, April 14, 2006

Coercing the Pledge of Allegiance

This story caught my eye:

Two Northern Lebanon [Pennsylvania] school-board members object to a revised district policy that makes it optional for a student to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

[ . . . ]

"I respectfully disagree and will not support this policy," school-board member Daniel Martel said. "Every person should pledge allegiance to the flag. The Constitution allows us to have these rights. I understand freedom of expression, but I also served in the military. Some things are sacrosanct."

Fellow board member Stephen Lum joined Martel in opposing the policy. He was the only other board member to vote against it.

"My thing is the new wording. It states that a district 'may offer opening exercises.' The old policy made it mandatory for the district to offer the Pledge of the Allegiance," Lum said.

The new wording, Martel added, makes it "too easy for a student to refuse to do it. Before, they had to list the conviction that prevented them from doing it." [Chris Brown, Lebanon Daily News]
Did it ever dawn on anyone on the Northern Lebanon school-board that any attempt to coerce the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional and has explicitly been so for over 65 years. In its decision on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the First Amendment protected students from being compelled to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. According to the Court:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.
So neither Daniel Martel nor Stephen Lum understand the freedom of expression, the role of the Constitution in protecting that freedom, or the role of the courts in checking the power of the public officials to do whatever they want just because they win an election every few of years, but Mr. Martel served in the military.

Well so did I, but in contrast, I realized that it wasn't the Pledge that was sacrosanct, but the principle of individual rights.

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