ACLU raps Florida’s new patriotic programs law

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

The American Civil Liberties Union pleaded for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to veto a bill promoting student participation in patriotic programs in public schools. That plea went unheeded.

Earlier this month, Bush signed the bill that authorizes the state's school boards to require patriotic programs in public schools encouraging respect for the U.S. government, the national anthem and the flag.

Larry Spalding, legislative counsel for the Florida ACLU, says his group objects to a section of the law that says a student can be excused from saying the Pledge of Allegiance only with written permission from his or her parents. The law also requires all students to stand at attention during the national anthem, with boys removing their hats.

'The bill clearly goes against what the Supreme Court has decided in past cases,' Spalding said.

In 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the high court determined that a student has the right to sit silently during the Pledge of Allegiance without his or her parent's permission. The Supreme Court also held that the government cannot coerce students 'by word or act' to affirm their loyalty to the country.

Spalding says the new Florida law simply mirrors an earlier state law promoting patriotism in public schools that was repealed in 1997 by the Legislature.

However, Lucia Ross, the governor's press secretary, said that Bush was confident that the law, which was signed on July 8, would survive any constitutional challenges.

Spalding says the ACLU has made its position known and will be willing to challenge the law if a plaintiff comes forward.