Requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance would violate state law and the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut told the Region 15 Board of Education in a letter.
The Region 15 board, which oversees the operation of public schools in Middlebury and Southbury, discussed at its Oct. 9 meeting the possibility of making the Pledge mandatory. The idea was sent to the board's Policy Committee, although some members noted that a state law requires that students be allowed to opt out of the Pledge.
In an Oct. 19 letter, ACLU of Connecticut Staff Attorney David McGuire reminded the board that not only state law but the U.S. Constitution protects students from being forced to recite the Pledge.
"It is well-established that students have the constitutional right to refuse to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance," McGuire wrote, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled nearly 70 years ago in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette "that requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is compelled speech and as such violates the First Amendment."
The letter also cited Byars v. City of Waterbury Board of Education, a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Connecticut in federal court. In that case, the District Court affirmed in 1997 that "[u]nder the First Amendment, a student may not be compelled to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance."
Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said that patriotism can't be imposed by force. "Coerced displays of allegiance are the tools of authoritarian regimes and they have no place in a free nation," Schneider said. "The only effective way to instill patriotism is to demonstrate the values that make this country great, including the fundamental right to freedom of speech."
- Oct. 22, 2012