This is something that many of our kids, our young soon-to-be-citizens, do every day:
And yet, what many people, including elected leaders, sometimes forget is that this is not actually something that anyone can be forced to do. Indeed, the mayor of Winter Garden is simply wrong when he says
“Now, sir, please stand while we do the pledge,” Rees said. “You don’t have to pledge, but please stand. Children have to in school, too.”
This has been addressed a number of times by the courts. Of course, we are familiar with West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1945). A Florida related case, Frazier v. Alexandre (2006), declared that a Florida law requiring students to stand and recite the pledge violated both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
So how can we relate this to our Benchmarks? The first thing to note is that students are not expected to be familiar with the Barnette case or really any specific case relating to the Pledge of Allegiance. The only Benchmark that addresses specific court cases is 7.C.3.12, and Barnette is not listed! This does not mean, however, that you cannot discuss this issue with your students within the context of the Benchmarks. For example, 7.C.2.2, Evaluate the obligations citizens have to obey laws, pay taxes, defend the nation, and serve on juries, is a benchmark where you could have students discuss whether the symbols of patriotism and citizenship, such as the Pledge, should also be an obligation of patriotism and citizenship?
SS.7.C.2.4, Evaluate rights contained in the Bill of Rights and other amendments to the Constitution, is another benchmark where this could be discussed as a warmup or extension opportunity. How does, for example, the First Amendment apply here? How about the Fourteenth? Is the symbolic act of the Pledge an example of speech, and can you FORCE someone to take part in symbolic speech?
SS.7.C.2.13, Examine multiple perspectives on public and current issues, is certainly one that fits here fantastically. You will find many different takes on the issue of symbolic speech, prayer, and related First Amendment concerns all over the internet (shoot, just read the comments in any of the public articles I posted above! Or, you know, maybe not if you want to avoid crudity). In any case, without a doubt, you can find some honest discussion on this issue that can be used to engage your students with this Benchmark!
For me, it’s always been fun to open discussion of the Pledge by asking the students what is going on in this picture, brought to us by CNN: