Required to stand for the Pledge?

dlaycock dlaycock at mail.law.utexas.edu
Fri Sep 10 15:12:36 PDT 2004


    Mark Scarberry is dead on; the school can attempt to persuade the 
student to say the secular parts of the Pledge.  Government can lead 
opinion, or attempt to, on secular matters, but not on religious 
matters.  The question is when persuasion becomes coercion, and Lee v. 
Weisman is not the test, because that's a religion case. 

    Threats of discipline are clearly coercive.  Being sent to the 
principal's office is a form of discipline in many schools.  But not 
every conversation between teacher and student about the student's 
behavior is discipline; not even every conversation between principal 
and student is discipline.  School officials could have talked to her 
about their perception of the value of the Pledge, or about the 
likelihood of making better relationships with her new classmates.  But 
given the realities of student-administration relationships, such 
conversations are likely to be coercive unless they expressly 
acknowledge that the choice is ultimately up to the student.

Scarberry, Mark wrote:

>Putting aside the issues raised by "under God" in the Pledge:
>
>Can it be true that the school has no right to try to convince students to
>show respect for the flag and for the country? Must the school be neutral on
>the value of showing such respect? Schools routinely try to convince
>students of various matters -- the need for good nutrition, why smoking is
>harmful, why we should recycle, the importance of resisting peer pressure
>with regard to use of drugs, etc. 
>
>It seems to me that Barnette stands for the proposition that a school may
>not require a student to express a patriotic sentiment; it does not stand
>for the proposition that the school must be neutral on the value of
>patriotic expressions (or on other issues). If the school were required to
>be neutral, the school could hardly sponsor and invite participation in a
>patriotic exercise--which Barnette certainly does not prohibit. If being
>called in to the principal's office is best seen as punitive or seriously
>coercive, then Barnette prohibits it. That may be the best view here, but I
>think we should be careful not to think that the school must be neutral. A
>friendly, noncoercive chat about the value of patriotism and the good
>reasons for making a patriotic expression would not violate Barnette. Of
>course, it may be difficult to think that a mandated visit to the
>principal's office would be for a friendly and noncoercive chat.
>
>Mark S. Scarberry
>Pepperdine University School of Law
> 
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