Can students be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance?
In 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a national conversation and movement by kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem. His act of protest was meant to call attention to police misconduct and treatment toward black Americans. The movement has become widespread, inspiring others to protest and #TakeTheKnee including students.
Now is a good time for schools to offer a refresher (to students, teachers and administrators) on students’ free speech rights in the classroom and at school. More than seventy years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that students cannot be forced to observe patriotic rituals in the classroom.* It would violate students’ free speech rights. In a later landmark case fully recognizing students’ First Amendment rights at school, the Supreme Court explained, students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”**
Students’ First Amendment rights to free speech allow them to participate in peaceful acts of protest like kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance so long as it does not disrupt the learning environment.
*West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
**Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969)
Photo by simpleinsomnia (Flickr)
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