The ACLU of Pennsylvania (one of the places I’ve been interning this summer) scored an important victory today when District Judge Robert Kelly ruled, in our favor, that forcing students – public and private school both – to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day or have their refusal reported to their parents is a stark violation of students’ rights. The overruled sponsor’s measure, State Rep. Allan Egolf, had a less than inspiring defense of his idea:
“I thought there wouldn’t be any problems with it,” Egolf said. “We just wanted to make it so the kids had the opportunity to learn the pledge and what the flag means to our country and what it stands for. If you don’t learn it in school, where are you going to learn it?”
This argument, like many made in defense of school prayer, seems to demonstrate a willful disregard for the distinction between studying an idea and practicing it. It’s about as convincing as the state’s lawyer’s argument in court: “The Pledge of Allegiance is only 70 or so words long anyway.”
Kelly, relatively conservative himself, was much more perceptive:
This letter home, Kelly wrote, “would chill the speech of certain students who would involuntarily recite the speech or [national] anthem rather than have a notice sent to their parents.”
Kelly also wrote that Egolf’s comments from the House debate had made it “obvious that he views refusal to recite the pledge or anthem as something negative for which disciplinary sanctions would be warranted.”
Justice Jackson, seventy years ago, said it best however:
To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions.
That it took a District Court ruling to stop the state of Pennsylvania from forcing all children to declare their allegiance to the flag or be told on to their parents (presumably because such subversion would demonstrate to the parents a failure in their conditioning of their progeny) doesn’t make our institutions look too hot either – although that much better than if, as many expected, Judge Kelly had ruled the other way.