If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
-Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
The Vindy (h/t ABJ) reports today about an Ohio high school student who was disciplined for not standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:
- Roxanne Westover, 17, of Elmwood Drive, had been reprimanded by the school for refusing to stand during the pledge, which is recited each morning. She said it contradicts her beliefs and she elected not to participate.
“I’m an atheist, and I believe the pledge isn’t something toward our nation,” she said. “It’s more like a religious oath, and I believe that if I stand I’m still participating in it.”
Westover said she had been written up and sent to the principal’s office multiple times for her refusal over the course of the past few weeks. The ACLU sent a letter requesting the school to stop requiring students to say the pledge.
In fact the question of compelling students to recite the Pledge was resolved back in 1943 in the Barnette case cited up top. The school is listening to the ACLU and in fact have discovered that school policy says students aren't required to recite.
All of which points up why civil libertarians work so hard to hold a strict line on attempts to introduce anything religious into schools. The pro-school prayer folks wonder ingenuously what could possibly wrong with a voluntary teacher-led prayer. This is what could -- and almost certainly would -- go wrong. Here is a school violating not only a decades-old Supreme Court precedent, but their own school policy. But we are supposed to trust that teacher-lead school prayer would never coerce non- or different believers.
Conservative Christians who pen thumb suckers about being oppressed. In fact they are angry that they can't use the mechanisms of the state to evangelize. That's not oppression. The plaintiffs in the Barnette case were Jehovah's Witnesses. Their children were expelled from school and their homes picketed. In other communities Witnesses were assaulted for their beliefs. That's oppression.
What Roxanne Westover experienced is hardly comparable to some of the outrages Americans past have experienced, but she did suffer real consequences just for believing something different than the majority. Happily we have a First Amendment to protect Roxanne -- and the rest of us.