Florida’s recently passed law will give students the right to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Florida recently passed an education bill that exempts students from participating in the morning school ritual of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It has not been mandatory for the students to actually recite the Pledge for the past 70 or so years, however, they were required to be present during the ritual standing at attention facing the flag with their right hand over the heart. They were also required to bring a note from their parents.
As per the new law, the students will no longer have to bring a note, and they will not have to stand during the ritual. The new law makes it mandatory for the public schools to have a written policy about it. Apart from adding the policy to their student handbook, the schools are required to post a notice regarding the policy in the front office. Finally, schools must notify parents about the new practice.
The problem with the Pledge of Allegiance goes back to when the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Its use in the public schools has been extremely controversial. According to the critics (mainly atheists), the pledge is a government-sanctioned endorsement of religion. It stands in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Both atheist critics and religious critics believe the pledge is incompatible with freedom and democracy.
It was the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), a community whose mission is to keep the religion out of government in Central Florida that pushed for this new law, on behalf of atheists and non-believers. According to Nick Fish who is part of the activist group, American Atheists, the new law would let a student, who do not want to recite the pledge or who do not wish to participate in the ritual, know about his absolute constitutional right to do just that.
American Atheists have warned the state’s 67 school districts that they would be keeping a close eye on them to make sure that the new law is followed, by sending a mail to each of them. They also said that they would request for the updated student handbook before the start of the next school year.
A lot of parents, however, are not happy with the law. According to Scott Donahue, a parent, who has been in the United States army, voiced his opinion that the students should at least stand during the ritual to show their respect to the country they live in.