As of August 9, an Atlanta school will no longer require its students to say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. Via USA Today, the principal of the school confirmed that students would be able to say it later in the day on a classroom to classroom basis, but that it won't be mandatory. This begs the questions of whether schools have to say the Pledge of Allegiance, legally, or whether it's simply been a custom that everyone's gotten used to.
Lara Zelinski, the principal of Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School's elementary campus, explained the logic of skipping the Pledge in a letter to schools and families. Via USA Today, she wrote, "Over the past couple of years it has become increasingly obvious that more and more of our community were choosing to not stand and/or recite the Pledge ... There are many emotions around this and we want everyone in our school family to start their day in a positive manner."
Instead of the Pledge of Allegiance, Zelinski revealed that students and teachers would be coming together in the following weeks to create their own "Wolf Pack chant."
She wrote, "[We] will be working with students to create a school pledge that we can say together at morning meeting. This pledge will focus on students’ civic responsibility to their school family, community, country and our global society. I am really looking forward to what our students create."
As for whether or not it's actually legally required for students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, the simple answer is it's complicated. According to ACLU lawyer Lee Rowland in a conversation with MTV, students are not legally required to recite the Pledge. She said, "I literally never get to give an answer [this] unequivocal. This is not an open question, it's not a right that's in flux. This is a 72-year-old truism: Students do not have to recite the Pledge."
Basically, forcing a student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment as well as the 14th Amendment, per a 1943 Supreme Court ruling. But plenty of schools across the country still require students to recite the Pledge regardless — and there have been many cases in which students have been punished for not doing so.
If you or your kid is at a school that requires students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and this makes you feel uncomfortable, Rowland's advice is simple:
The first step is knowing your rights. Those students should have the confidence of [their] convictions. They have every right, protected under the Constitution, not to say the Pledge. Those kids could march right into the principal's office and say, "It's my understanding the Supreme Court gave me the right to opt out 72 years ago -- why haven't you guys gotten the memo yet?"
Rowland also suggests reaching out to your local ACLU chapter for help backing you up, in case the school needs a stronger reminder.
"This is the kind of issue that fortunately doesn't take a lawsuit to resolve," Rowland said to MTV. "The law is so clearly established that, frequently, a letter from an attorney or even a concerned parent or citizen within the community is likely to resonate with school officials once it gets into the hands of someone who clearly knows the school's in hot water if they're engaging in that kind of behavior."