ACLU Praises Appeals Court Decision Striking Down Pennsylvania's Mandatory Pledge of Allegiance Law

August 19, 2004 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today praised an appeals court decision striking down a Pennsylvania law requiring private and public school students to begin each school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the national anthem. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that law violated the First Amendment rights of students and private schools.

Witold “Vic” Walczak, Litigation Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that the Court’s decision taught a fundamental lesson: “You can’t compel patriotism and by trying you only sacrifice freedom.”

In the fall of 2002 the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted legislation mandating that all public, private and parochial schools provide for the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance or singing of the national anthem. The law recognized that students could not be compelled to recite the pledge, but required schools to provide written notification to parents of students who decline to say the Pledge.

“The ACLU lobbied against this bill when it was before the legislature. We argued that you can’t coerce students to give up their First amendment rights by threatening to tell their parents if they do so,” said Larry Frankel, Legislative Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Today, we see, the Third Circuit agreed with that argument.”

The Court found that the parental notification provision discriminated among students based on their viewpoint about reciting the Pledge. The Court held that the law would chill only the First Amendment rights of students who considered exercising their right to decline saying the Pledge. The Court also found the law violated the right of private schools to freedom of association.

“This is a wonderful victory for the First Amendment and for students’ right of free expression,” said Michael K. Twersky of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP, who handled the case on behalf of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “As the Court aptly noted, the First Amendment protects those with dissident views and it is the role of the courts to uphold the protection guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

The ACLU is representing a public high school student, parents on private school students and private non-religious schools. Stefan Presser, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania worked closely with Twersky in achieving this important First Amendment victory.

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