A charter school in Atlanta announced on Tuesday it would remove the Pledge of Allegiance from its morning meeting, moving the Pledge to a later time.
By Thursday, facing backlash from parents, politicians and the media, Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School decided that this policy was actually not such a good idea.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) went as far as to threaten the school, saying, “I’m sure our House Education Committee will examine whether taxpayer funds should be used to instill such a divisive ideology in our students.”
Maybe the threat of losing money from the nation they didn’t want to pledge allegiance to is was the tipping point for the charter school.
“Starting next week, we will return to our original format and provide our students with the opportunity to recite the Pledge during the all-school morning meeting,” the school announced in a statement on Thursday.
The school’s original plan was for teachers and students to create a new school pledge to recite instead of the Pledge of Allegiance at the morning meeting. Elementary campus president Lara Zelski said the newly written pledge would “focus on students’ civic responsibility to their school family, community, country and our global society.”
The decision to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from the morning meeting was made “in an effort to begin our day as a fully inclusive and connected community,” Zelski said. “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.”
A likely reason for the Georgia school’s sudden distaste for the pledge is the recent NFL scuffle with President Trump over standing for the national anthem.
Challenges to the pledge are not novel. Just like the national anthem ceremony, there is of course no legal requirement to say the words of the pledge. Students may for any reason not recite the words. This was established in the landmark 1943 Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In that case, the Court held that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects students from compulsion to salute or say the Pledge. That case stemmed from Jehovah’s Witnesses who according to their religion are not allowed to recite an oath.
More recently, states were sued for requiring students to say the phrase “under God,” one that was added to the anthem in 1954 by President Eisenhower. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that the pledge does not represent a government endorsement of religion. And in 2014, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled that the phrase does not discriminate against atheists, that the words “under God” represent a patriotic, not a religious, exercise.
The bottom line here is that the status quo should not really be all that troubling for Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School. The law already allows for students to say whatever they want during the pledge, so removing it from their morning meeting was unnecessary, especially considering that they were complying with Georgia law to have the pledge recited at another point during the day.
The school’s policy of removing the pledge only served to divide us rather than unite us, accomplishing the opposite of what the pledge was intended to do.