Texas students prevail in dispute over standing for Pledge

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A dispute over the Pledge of Allegiance in Sweeny, Texas, shows that enduring constitutional lessons sometimes need reinforcement.

Last month, several students at Sweeny High School refused to stand for the pledge. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the students sat quietly in a non-disruptive manner. The students were then sent to the principal’s office. The school’s rulebook provides that students must stand during the pledge and the National Anthem.

The ACLU of Texas wrote a letter to the school district, explaining the law regarding the pledge in public schools. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that school officials could not punish Jehovah’s Witness students for refusing to recite the pledge. In a famous passage, Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “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 fact their faith therein.” Several lower courts also have ruled that public school students cannot be forced to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The civil rights group announced that school officials had agreed that students would no longer be forced to stand during the pledge and that the rulebook would be changed to reflect the new policy this summer.

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