A couple of months ago, the superintendent of Florida’s Santa Rosa County District Schools was upset after students were reminded — through signs on classroom walls — that they didn’t have to stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance. In his mind, forced recitation of the Pledge was both patriotic and a requirement in state law.
He was wrong on both counts.
Saying the Pledge is optional and no student can be punished for refusing to participate. As I said before, the students who choose to remain seated may even be more patriotic because they know it’s wrong to force people to say we’re a nation “Under God” or that we have “justice for all” when that’s just not true in practice.
As for the state law bit, here’s what state statute 1003.44 currently says:
Each district school board may adopt rules to require, in all of the schools of the district, programs of a patriotic nature to encourage greater respect for the government of the United States and its national anthem and flag, subject always to other existing pertinent laws of the United States or of the state.
Each student shall be informed by posting a notice in a conspicuous place that the student has the right not to participate in reciting the pledge. Upon written request by his or her parent, the student must be excused from reciting the pledge.
The Supreme Court ruled several decades ago that no one had to stand for the Pledge, so most of the information in that statute is now irrelevant. Schools can’t require kids to say the Pledge. And (depending on how you interpret that last bit I quoted) you don’t need your parents’ permission to skip out on it.
Florida legislators now have plans to change that statute — which sounds great, since it’s needs a revision. Unfortunately, their revision will only make things worse:
… Representatives Mike Hill (R-Pensacola Beach) and Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze) and Sen. Greg Evers drafted a new statue that clarifies the existing law.
“I feel reasonably sure we can get the bill through hurriedly,” Evers said.
If passed, the new statute will allow students to submit a written request to their school to be excused from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. It will also limit the posting of students’ rights on this matter to the school’s student handbooks.
It’s one thing to hide the rule that says “you don’t have to stand” in a student handbook instead of on a classroom wall where everyone can see it. But saying that students have to “submit a written request” in order to get out of saying the Pledge? That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen and the District would lose.
You don’t need a written request to sit during the Pledge. If you don’t want to say it, you don’t have to say it, and there’s not a damn thing the school can do to you.
I hate to criticize a student, but at a public hearing on the matter, one made a passionate and disturbing defense of forcing students to say the Pledge:
“My heart sank for the men and women who died fighting for the country and the principles it was founded on,” [Sophomore Haley Odom] said Tuesday night as tears streamed down her cheeks. “My heart sank for those who lost their family, husbands, wives, children and parents while they were fighting for this country. My heart sank for the people who have so little respect and so little appreciation for these men and women and take our freedom for granted.”
I know she’s a sophomore, but she has no idea what she’s talking about, and it’s disgusting that the adults in the room gave her a standing ovation for her ignorance.
The people who died for this country did so to protect our freedom. What Odom and these adults want is to take that freedom away from students who have personal reasons for not saying the Pledge. No one had the courage to correct her mistakes.
The Superintendent said he welcomed the legislation, since he didn’t want kids to know what rights they have:
Wyrosdick spoke in favor of the proposed changes to the statute. He said the School District will gladly take the signs down as soon as the law permits. He then told the crowd that three students refused to participate in the Pledge of the Allegiance before posting the signs and the number increased by five afterward.
He said that last part as if it were a bad thing…
But that wasn’t as bad as the politician who recommended vandalism:
“I’m not advocating any student do this, but if I were a student in that class that sign wouldn’t stay up long. Again, I’m not advocating any student do that,” [state Rep. Mike] Hill said smiling.
A State Rep. just encouraged students to rip down signs reminding them of their legal rights.
This is all just a blatant disregard for the law, led by elected officials who clearly don’t know how the Constitution works.
They can change the statute all they want, but it won’t remain that way for long. All it would take is one brave student willing to remain seated during the Pledge, and possibly be a plaintiff in a lawsuit if he or she got punished for it, and all these adults would learn the hard way how the rules actually work.
This is really the worst kind of patriotism — the kind that says you have to agree with whatever a bunch of uninformed conservatives want, or they’ll come after you.
Let’s hope the pushback comes soon.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to David for the link)