The Ethical Dilemma: No, You Don’t Have to Stand for the Pledge

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Do I Have to Stand for the Pledge? Hello, I am a high school student. Recently, my Spanish teacher and others have been forcing me to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Do I have to stand and not say ANYTHING, or can I just sit down?

—What Are My Rights?

Dear Rights,

If you are a student in a public school, legally you don’t have to stand for the pledge, or recite it, if you don’t want to. Anyone trying to force you is out of line. For more information, check out Of particular relevance to you, it states:

[P]ublic school students can’t be forced to participate in the Pledge. In the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory participation violates the Free Speech rights of students under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. This means students cannot be forced to stand or leave the room, and that they should not be harassed, questioned, disciplined, or pressured in any way for their decision to opt out. Teachers and public schools violating this right are subject to lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, where they may be liable for damages and attorney fees.

But asserting your rights is often easier said than done, especially if your school administration doesn’t understand the law or agree to uphold it. You might go to your principal to talk about how you are being forced unlawfully, and ask him or her to check out the website (or print out the part about public schools).

If that doesn’t work, you can contact AHA’s legal arm, which has handled high school pledge cases before, or other civil rights organizations, such as your local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Once your school hears from one of these legal organizations on your behalf, I expect the teachers bothering you will be instructed to lay off.

Stand up for your right not to stand for the Pledge. Not only will you be sticking up for yourself, you’ll also be preventing other students (and perhaps staff as well) from being hassled now and in the future. This is great practice for handling other issues you may have to deal with as you go through life. Kudos to you for having the conviction to stick up for yourself. And good luck teaching your teachers a civics lesson.