Standing for Pledge now optional

New school district policy follows concerns about daily recitation

Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Juneau students don't have to stand if they don't want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance under a new policy approved by the Juneau School Board on Tuesday night.

Reaction from students at Juneau-Douglas High School this morning was mixed.

"That's good," sophomore Justin Bahm said of the change. "There's no reason for standing up if you're not going to say it. Lots of people don't want to stand up or do the pledge."

But Kristie Durand said her fellow students should stand up.

"There's 15 or 16 people in my family who died in wars fighting for the country so we can be free. You should at least show your respect," she said.

The board also changed the policy, from the first draft presented two weeks ago, to say the pledge should be recited at least weekly, rather than daily. Schools Superintendent Gary Bader said he will meet with principals to decide how often each grade level will be invited to recite the pledge.

Some teachers, especially at the high school, were concerned the pledge, given over the intercom after first period starts, was interrupting class, said Juneau Education Association President Sheryl Hall.

Some high school students have said the pledge loses its meaning by being recited daily.

The board also removed a phrase in the draft policy that referred to students not reciting the pledge "on the basis of personal or religious convictions."

Parent and attorney Robert Meachum told the board students could decline to recite the pledge for any or no reason. He said he was outraged his middle school-age son was asked by officials why he didn't want to participate.

The board also added wording from state law that says school officials can't retaliate against students who don't recite the pledge.

The Legislature passed a law last session that requires schools to offer students the regular opportunity to recite the pledge. The law sets a particular text, which includes the phrase "one nation under God." Students must be told of their right not to participate, but nonparticipants must maintain a respectful silence.

But the school district's first draft of the policy, and the information schools gave to teachers when the school year began, said nonparticipating students must stand.

That goes beyond the state law's requirement of respectful silence, and it infringes on students' right of free expression, some attorneys told the school board.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union informed the school district about a 1943 Supreme Court decision that said no government official can force citizens to confess their faith in matters of opinion by act or word. Forcing students to stand forces them to participate by act in the pledge, ACLU Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger told the board in a letter from Anchorage. She had heard from a Juneau parent concerned his son would be disciplined for not standing up.

Respectful silence refers to respecting other people's rights by not preventing them from saying the pledge, Rudinger said. Any effort to require a particular posture for sitting students would be as unconstitutional as requiring students to recite the pledge, she added.

That idea didn't sit well with all board members.

Mary Becker said it's not respectful to be seated, but the issue isn't worth lawsuits.

"We're going to have a problem enforcing this," said board member Chuck Cohen. "I don't think rolling your eyes (as an example) is appropriate personally, because I don't think that's respectful silence."

As long as the student isn't disrupting class, it's constitutionally protected expression to roll eyes or slouch in the chair, said local attorney Paul Grant, who said he was representing the Alaska Civil Liberties Union.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the new policy, with Alan Schorr voting against it. He couldn't be reached immediately for comment this morning.

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