ACLU Stands Up for Right Not to Stand during Flag Salute

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

For the second straight year, the first week of school brought the ACLU a plea for help from a student in trouble for refusing to stand for the flag salute. The Elma High School sophomore, who remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance at an assembly, explained to the principal that he chose not to stand for reasons of conscience. Citing a spurious Supreme Court decision alleged to require all students rise for flag exercise, the administrator suspended the student for disrupting school.

The student sought help from Gary Murrell, leader of the ACLU’s new chapter in Grays Harbor County. The ACLU quickly advised school authorities that the courts have in fact ruled that students cannot be forced to stand for the flag salute. State law simply requires them to maintain a respectful silence during the Pledge. The student was back in school the next morning, and the suspension was removed from his record.

At Tacoma’s Foss High School, daily announcements over the intercom concluded with the instruction, "Please stand for the flag salute." After we contacted the principal and clarified students’ right to remain seated, the instructions were changed to say, "It is now time for the Pledge of Allegiance."

On a variation on the theme, a teacher at Voyager High School in Mukilteo complained that the principal was telling students that he would notify their parents and require written parental permission before they could sit out the Pledge. The ACLU explained that permission slips are not needed for students to exercise their constitutional rights. The principal said he would not require parental approval in the future.