Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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March 11, 2010

Speaking out, pledging our rights

On Jan. 27, a young girl at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown refused to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. When she refused the teacher's request to rise for the Pledge, the instructor sent the student out into the hallway. The student was threatened with detention and sent to her counselor's office promptly thereafter. But the grievous violation of First Amendment rights did not end there. The next day, when the student refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance once again, a security officer escorted her out of the classroom and back to her counselor. To add to this humiliation, when the student's mother complained to the assistant principal, she was told that the student must apologize to the teacher. A role reversal to what should have happened. The teen proceeded to apologize, twice over, for her "defiant" actions.

And so, in 2010, teachers and schools are still violating fundamental rights that were established in 1791. The choice to stand up and say, or refuse to say, the Pledge of Allegiance is a key part of a student and citizen's First Amendment rights. They are delineated not only in MCPS's Student Guide to Rights and Responsibilities, but also in Maryland state law and more importantly, in the U.S. Constitution.

At most schools, including Blair, not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance is a common occurrence. Every morning, each student has the legal right to decide whether or not to stand and whether or not to say the Pledge of Allegiance. This choice was guaranteed in this state by the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1871, and then 72 years later, in the entire country, by the highest court in the land. Both rulings affirmed that students have the right to not recite the Pledge.

It is the responsibility of all teachers and schools to inform the young citizens under their tutelage of their constitutional rights, not deny them. This instruction went awry in Germantown, and not for the first time. For this very reason, because free speech is a right easily and often violated, teachers and adults must take special care to impart the importance of upholding such basic rights in all situations. Free speech is just as salient inside the classroom as it is outside of it.

Soon after the classroom incident, the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped in and demanded redress of the situation. The MCPS central office confirmed that the teacher violated school regulations, and the teacher was required to apologize to the student. But, as always, recognition must extend into implementation. And the acknowledgement of First Amendment rights must extend in both directions. Students who stand up for the Pledge have the right to do so without ostracism, a reverse case of First Amendment violation common among teens looking to be "cool." This right is just as valid as the right to not stand.

As the ACLU pointed out promptly after the incident, the Supreme Court has upheld that the patriotism that drives some teachers to mandate saying the Pledge is more constitutionally expressed through the support of the fundamental right of free speech. After all, patriotism must not revert to abusive nationalism or artificial patriotism.

After its initial ruling in 1943, the Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of universal free speech with Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The decision proclaimed that students retain their right to free speech within school grounds. It is this right, which, having been promulgated many times over in the past, we must seek to uphold not only in our textbooks, but also in our teachings.

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