Saturday, September 20, 2003
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..." begins the First Amendment. Lately, however, many feel that this freedom has come into question because of the rise of patriotism and because of a new Colorado law requiring that teachers and students recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The new law has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal lawsuit, and was most recently blocked by U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock, on Aug. 15. The ACLU said the law contradicts the First Amendment by forcing students and teachers to say the pledge, violating freedom of speech and religion.
Supporters of the law say students would be able to waive participation in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance if they object for religious reasons and have a note from their parents, or if they are not U.S. citizens. However, teachers cannot be exempt.
In a recent article from the Associated Press, Babcock said, "The law discriminates against teachers by allowing students to opt out with a note from their parents," but forcing teachers to say the pledge.
In the same article, Babcock said, "The law pits students who choose to say the pledge against those who do not, and students against teachers."
Because of the ACLU's efforts to have the law blocked, it has come under much criticism and scrutiny. In an article from TheDenverChannel.com, Gov. Bill Owens said, "The Pledge of Allegiance is a treasured and positive civic tradition. This is a frivolous and gratuitous attempt by the ACLU to demean a law that is clearly constitutional."
In its argument, the ACLU cited a 1943 Supreme Court Case in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses who were expelled from school by the West Virginia Board of Education for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Jehovah's Witnesses have religious objections because they are politically neutral and do not support one country or government over another.
"It is because they view the flag salute as an act of worship, and worship belongs to God; they cannot conscientiously give worship to anyone or anything except God," states a brochure published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, addressing Jehovah's Witnesses stance on the Pledge of Allegiance.
ACLU attorney Allen Chen stated said forcing students and teachers to pledge their allegiance "is nothing less than ritualistic recitation of words that have much meaning to some people and no meaning to other people."
Regarding the injunction now in effect, Gov. Owens said the ruling is "dramatically out of step with the desires and practices of most Coloradans who value and respect the Pledge of Allegiance."
On a local level, high school teachers and administrators are waiting to see what happens and wondering how the law will change their daily classroom routines. The injunction is in effect until a decision is reached on the challenge.
"I love the flag and what it stands for: all of our rights to free speech, to say the pledge if you want to or not, not to be forced to recite an oath in a public school," said Steamboat Springs High School American history teacher and former attorney Deirdre Dwyer Boyd. "Personally, the idea of reciting an oath makes me uncomfortable, and even though students wouldn't be required to say it, the school being required would be questionable as far as the First Amendment goes."
The law would be taking away the First Amendment right of teachers because they would not be able to opt out, Dwyer Boyd said.
Students also are unclear on the constitutionality of the new law. Some would object to being forced to recite the pledge. Some think the pledge should be recited voluntarily, not because it is a requirement.
"It's ironic to be forced to pledge to the flag that stands for rights such as freedom of speech," Dwyer Boyd said.