Two weeks ago, in talking about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision that the phrase "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance has nothing to do with religion and so does not violate the rights of atheists, I noted that part of the court's argument was that reciting the Pledge is voluntary, that students, the Court said, "are free to recite the pledge or any part of it that they see fit" or they can "choose to abstain."
Which, as I noted, is true legally - but, I asked, just how true it is socially, just how free are we in day-to-day reality to not join in reciting the Pledge.
Well, we have our answer.
The Elmira City School District of Elmira, New York, stands accused of bullying a high school sophomore who refused to stand for the pledge because she objected to the reference to "under God."
She was ordered to stand by her teacher, who threatened her with disciplinary action if she didn't. The teacher also told her, in front of the whole class, that not standing for the Pledge is "disrespectful to America and to military personnel."
And it seems this was not an isolated incident there. The American Humanist Association, in a letter to the school demanding it recognize students' constitutional right to not say the pledge, said:
We have been informed that teachers - and even an administrator - in your school have inappropriately pressured students to participate in the Pledge exercise. For example, students have been told that nonparticipation is disrespectful and unpatriotic, that nonparticipation would itself be disruptive, and that participation is expected because nonparticipation would encourage others to opt out.Even though the legal right to refuse to recite the pledge is clearly and well-established, the question about the practical ability, the day-to-day freedom, to abstain remains.
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