Pledge Requirement Threatens Free Speech
COLUMBUS- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio urged lawmakers to reject an amendment to the state budget, House Bill 1, that would prohibit school districts from deciding whether or not the Pledge of Allegiance will be recited in their classrooms. Instead of allowing school districts to decide what is appropriate for their community, the legislation forbids districts from passing any policy that would prevent an individual teacher from mandating that the pledge be recited in her classroom. The legislation also prevents anyone reciting the pledge to alter it in any way, such as adding or removing words.
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “This is a transparent attempt to force all school districts into mandating the pledge to be recited in all classrooms. Local school districts know their communities best and should be permitted to make decisions that they feel are consistent with those they represent.”
“In addition, mandating that people may not alter the pledge in any way is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. The Ohio General Assembly should not be in the business of dictating what people may or may not say and how they may choose to recite the pledge,” added Link.
The legislation would still allow individual students to choose not to recite the pledge, but prevents school boards from deciding if the pledge should be mandated in all classrooms.
In the landmark 1943 U.S. Supreme Court Case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the court found that students could not be required to recite the pledge and doing so violated their free speech rights.
“Whenever the government starts to legislate speech, the inevitable result will be that other speech is silenced. If lawmakers simply require that every district recite the pledge as is, it prevents communities from deciding what is acceptable for themselves and chills peoples’ ability to dissent on part or all of the pledge,” concluded Link.
The legislature continues to debate the budget bill, and it is unclear whether this proposal will be included.