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ACLU: Student Pledge Protest a "Teachable Moment"

PHOTO: The ACLU wants a Maryland student's Pledge of Allegiance protest to be a teachable moment about the First Amendment.
PHOTO: The ACLU wants a Maryland student's Pledge of Allegiance protest to be a teachable moment about the First Amendment.
May 28, 2013

DAMASCUS, Md. - The ACLU of Maryland wants more attention on the case of a Montgomery County teenager who is protesting the Pledge of Allegiance in school. According to ACLU staff attorney David Rocah, the pupil is quietly sitting out the pledge to protest U.S. policies in Puerto Rico, and claims she's been repeatedly harassed and intimidated by school faculty for her actions.

Rocah said the ACLU is calling on the Montgomery County School Superintendent to engage in a "meaningful dialogue" to ensure that pupils' rights are respected.

"Students should just be left alone," he declared. "They should not be harassed, berated, removed from class and have their motives questioned."

A lawyer for Montgomery County Public Schools sent a letter to Rocah saying the student was not harassed. It says MCPS takes its responsibility to respect the constitutional rights of its students very seriously, and "has policies and regulations in place to affirm that responsibility."

Rocah called the letter dismissive, and said the school system should use the case to teach pupils and faculty about the meaning of the First Amendment.

"About why we tolerate dissent in this country, why we tolerate people having different views; why we are not a government that coerces obedience and loyalty, but inspires it."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that students cannot be forced to salute the flag. Montgomery County policy says students do not have to participate in patriotic exercises, or be penalized or embarrassed for failure to participate. In 2009, a teacher in the county had police escort a student out of class for refusing to say the pledge. The teacher has since apologized to the student.

A link to letters between the school system and the ACLU is at ACLU-MD.org.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - MD