Patriotism, loyalty, and commitment were the main pillars on which the Pledge of Allegiance in American public schools were founded. Reciting the Pledge before the start of lessons has been a common practice. The pledge of allegiance was first acknowledged and implemented in the U.S in 1942 (Cooley, 2019). Over the years, arguments have arisen over the clause “Under God” regarding its implication on students’ freedom from coercion and religious identity. Arguably, students in public high schools have developed religious identities that should be respected under the Establishment Clause and should not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Arguments against Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance
The teacher-guided recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional. Although the Pledge of Allegiance has been a common practice in the U.S. for many years, the 1954 Congressional legislation that added the words “under God” introduced a religious conflict that renders the clause’s mandatory use in public schools unlawful (Cooley, 2019). Before the introduction of the clause, the Pledge alluded to “one indivisible nation” (Cooley, 2019, p. 911). Indivisibility is not synonymous with being one nation under God since that clause divides the nation by religious beliefs. According to the Establishment Clause, every American has the right to identify with a religion of their choice without being forced to subscribe to a different faith (Cooley, 2019). Evidently, public schools are comprised of students from different religious backgrounds, including atheists. Forcing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance subjects them to a coercive environment that requires them to affirm God, which is not essential for the Pledge’s primary goal- patriotism.
The influence of religion in American civic life is the second reason for discontinuing the Pledge of Allegiance recitation in public schools. The U.S. Constitution requires that civil duties be separated from religious requirements (Cooley, 2019). The current law requiring students to start with the Pledge before they get to their classes implies that religious duties are laced before civic responsibilities. Although the original intention of the Pledge of Allegiance was to instill a sense of identity and patriotism, its connection to “one God” has an implication on the role of religion in influencing the students’ civil duties of standing by each other, united as one nation (Cooley, 2019, p. 911). In addition, the current law requires that teachers lead the school in the recitation, implying that a teacher’s role as an educator is preceded by their religious implication. Currently, students and teachers are forced to affirm God, playing religious roles masked under the advocacy for patriotism, which should be discontinued.
Students’ religious identities and expressions are hampered by the religious speech mandated by the Pledge of Allegiance. Critics of the Pledge feel that its position as the only patriotic exercise in U.S. public schools is wrong and requires policy change (Cooley, 2019). Patriotic songs and historical records can instill moral values, patriotism, and integrity among students, just as the Pledge of Allegiance purports to do. At the high school level, students are aware of themselves, developing religious identities that should be respected. The mandatory recitation of the Pledge implies that students’ speech is guided by one religion while undervaluing the place of atheists in the community. Therefore, since public schools are institutions founded to establish moral and academic excellence among students, the Pledge of Allegiance should be replaced by other patriotic activities such as songs and national historical readings, as these do not interfere with religious speech.
While critics of the Pledge of Allegiance argue based on religious freedom, supporters of the practice argue that it is a patriotic exercise as opposed to a religious duty. According to Corbin (2019), the U.S. Supreme Court has been in the spotlight for opportunistic application of originalism as opposed to consistent and legal inferences. In two different cases, the Lutheran church v. Comer and the town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court’s inconsistency with the originalism basis shows that the establishment clause is linked more to the desired outcomes than principle (Corbin, 2019). Arguing on this element, proponents feel that if the clause is meant to unite and communicate the value of patriotism to American students, then reciting it before the start of each school day is crucial. However, looking at the desired outcomes may limit people from understanding the underlying values of the American people, such as religious freedom, that may be downtrodden under the premise of patriotism.
In conclusion, the Pledge of Allegiance has been a common exercise in public U.S. public schools. The fundamental aim of the Pledge was to cultivate patriotism among students by requiring them to recite it every day before beginning their classes. However, adding the clause “under God” introduced religious conflict worth considering. The clause makes reciting the Pledge unconstitutional, places religious duty above civic responsibility, and interferes with students’ religious speech. Although supporters of the Pledge argue that its impact should be judged by the desired outcomes, such a view overrides the constitutional right to freedom of religious affiliation, speech, and identity. Therefore, since students in public high schools have religious identities that should not be interfered with in their academic pursuits, they should not be required to recite the pledge of allegiance before classes.
Cooley, A. H. (2019). Justiciability and judicial fiat in Establishment Clause cases involving religious speech of students. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 22, 911-915.
Corbin, C. M. (2019). Opportunistic originalism and the Establishment Clause. Wake Forest Law. Review, 54, 617.