School Capitulates To Free Speech Group Over Pledge Of Allegiance

( – The Pledge of Allegiance, which has been updated many times, was first written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy. Most states mandate that the verse be recited in schools. One school recently had to update a message to staff after a nonprofit organization said it was violating civil liberties.

After Twin Ridge Elementary School in Frederick County, Maryland, sent out a notice on April 26 to staff members reminding them of the Maryland Education Code ยง 7-105(c)(3), which requires students and teachers “to stand and face the flag” and say the pledge, a teacher complained. That led to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit group whose “mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought,” penning a letter to the principal, Heather Hobbs.

The organization noted that it was “concerned about the threat to freedom of conscience.” It also noted that the school left out an important subsection of the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) cited, subsection (d), which allows teachers and students to exempt themselves from saying the pledge. Not allowing the exemption, FIRE stated, is not just a violation of Maryland law; it’s a violation of the staff and students’ First Amendment rights. The letter included a link to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, a landmark case in 1943 where the Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not mandate students participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

After it received the letter from FIRE, district officials noted that the original message contained inaccurate information. The school then sent out an update to its original message, noting the exemption. Administrators throughout Frederick County were also notified of the update, which was immediately put into effect. Naturally, the reaction was mixed, with some believing the pledge is a patriotic message and others standing behind free speech rights.

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