Texas School Falsely Tells Students Pledge is Legally Mandatory

Midland High School in trouble again over compelling students to say the Pledge of Allegiance

Midland High School in Midland, Texas is under fire for a presentation to students that instructed them standing for the Pledge of Allegiance is legally mandatory. Following outcry from parents after the presentation, school officials claimed it was merely a “misunderstanding.”

CBS 7 in Texas reported on the incident:

“It’s basically a law,” Seth Ortega said. “We need to stand to respect our country, and those who died.”

Juniors and seniors were given a presentation on the Pledge of Allegiance, with a slide saying it’s the law to stand during the pledge and stay silent during the moment of silence.

It’s not the law. In fact, a 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia protects students from having to stand during the pledge.

MISD representatives said it was a misunderstanding in context, but that’s not how students saw it.

“They shouldn’t enforce it like that, because now people think it’s the law,” said Damien Jurado.

“I feel like everybody should stand,” commented Edgar Ruiz.

Midland ISD’s Woodrow bailey added that if students wish not to participate, their parents can fill out a form to remove them during the pledge.

This incident follows a similar case last year where the same school sent home an African-American student who chose to kneel during the pledge. To escape culpability (much like in the current incident), they claimed the student was punished due to a disruptive outburst rather than the act of refusing to participate in the pledge. Despite that claim, he returned to school the following day without punishment or notation on his school record.

In both instances, the school refused to acknowledge their role in violating student rights while maintaining (incorrectly) that students must obtain parental permission to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Though we’ve covered this at length before, it merits mentioning:

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld students’ rights to decline participation in Pledge of Allegiance recitation in classrooms. The Supreme Court handed down the original case setting the precedent (West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette) in 1943, in fact.

Later, in Frazier Frazier v. Winn that legal principle was explicitly upheld as the justices said, “students have a constitutional right to stay seated during the Pledge is well established.”

The high court laid out one of the more important points in Pledge jurisprudence in 2003’s Walker-Serrano ex rel. Walker v. Leonard when they said, “For over fifty years, the law has protected elementary students’ rights to refrain from reciting the pledge of allegiance to our flag. Punishing a child for non-disruptively expressing her opposition to recitation of the pledge would seem to be as offensive to the First Amendment as requiring its oration.”

Though many would argue soldiers and veterans fought and died for the right to recite the pledge, the truth is those soldiers fought and died to protect the Constitutional freedoms the flag and pledge represent – and first among those codified individual freedoms is the right to be free from compelled speech and expression. Forcing anyone – adult, child or otherwise – to salute a flag and/or recite a pledge of allegiance would make the U.S. no better than autocratic dictatorships like North Korea that rely on nationalism to enforce conformity and militaristic unity.

Which is to say, patriotism is not the same thing as forced nationalism.

While Donald Trump may admire Kim Jong Un’s militaristic prowess, he does not have the power to overrule the Constitution’s First Amendment protections – and neither does Midland High School.

 

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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