FFRF opposes Texas school district’s forced Pledge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is challenging a Texas school district’s forced Pledge of Allegiance.

On Oct. 18, San Felipe Memorial Middle School Principal Celia Zuniga-Barrera reportedly made an announcement over the school’s public-address system ordering the entire student body to stand for and participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Zuniga-Barrera has apparently similarly instructed teachers to make sure that their students stand during the pledge.

Students must not be singled out or punished in any way for choosing not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, FFRF tells school officials.

“The Supreme Court ruled over 70 years ago that compelling a student to recite the pledge and salute the flag infringed upon a student’s First Amendment rights,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover writes to San Felipe Del Rio CISD Superintendent Carlos Rios. “The Barnette ruling assured students that their beliefs would be protected. The court stated, ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.'” And since then, multiple courts have reiterated that students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and that any punishment administered in reaction to a student exercising that right violates the Constitution, FFRF adds.

To the extent that Texas Education Code – EDUC § 25.082 requires schools to force students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, it is in conflict with federal law, which trumps state law on this issue, FFRF informs the district. Almost ten years ago, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed this rule in Frazier ex rel. Frazier v. Winn. (2008). The judgment held that the section of Florida’s similar pledge statute, Fla. Stat. Ann. §1003.44(1), which required all students and citizens to stand during recitation of the pledge, was unconstitutional.

Students must not be singled out or otherwise penalized for exercising their right of conscience, FFRF concludes. If the district’s policies are otherwise, then those policies must be changed. If Zuniga-Barrera and other employees are misinformed about the district’s policies, they must be educated so that their students have a right to be free from any forced participation in the pledge.

FFRF is requesting that San Felipe Del Rio CISD investigate the situation and take steps to ensure that its policies concerning the Pledge of Allegiance respect the right of conscience of its students and that all district teachers, administrators, and students are informed of those policies.

“The school district can’t force nationalism and religiosity onto students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s truly practicing patriotism to teach students that they retain their freedom to dissent.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members across the country, including over 1,200 in Texas. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church and to educate the public on nontheism.

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