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Volume 17, Number 6
November/December 2001

Patriotism or Peer Pressure?

Renewed interest in the Pledge of Allegiance raises free-speech questions

 

Since September 11, students all over the country have been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with greater frequency and fervor. The Pledge, which had gone the way of Latin class in many schools, is now returning as a daily practice in more and more classrooms. This change was highlighted by the "Pledge Across America" on October 12, during which U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige led students from Hawaii to Maine in a simultaneous recitation of the national oath.

While participation in that event was voluntary, there has been a recent increase in the number of states, municipalities, and school boards requiring schools to lead daily recitations of the Pledge. In the community hardest hit by the September 11 disaster, the New York City Board of Education recently voted for a daily Pledge in the city's schools; 24 states and numerous cities and towns currently have laws outlining similar requirements.

Schools may be bound by these laws, but individual students and teachers are not. Under a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette), it is unconstitutional for schools to require students or teachers to recite the Pledge or to punish those who refuse to do so for religious, philosophical, or other reasons.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.

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