Does W. Virginia vs. Barnette still affect students?


Saly Seye

[dropcap style=”flat”]A[/dropcap]cross the United States, the topics of patriotism and respect for one’s country spark heated conversations. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick generated controversy in his choice to kneel during the national anthem at games, dubbing the gesture a protest of racial inequality rather than one of disrespect to his country.
Outraged citizens found his refusal to stand during the anthem offensive. The impact of his protest even made it to Missouri students as a 2016 law mandated that schools allow time to lead students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance once a day.
But discord among Americans over the Pledge is not new; 75 years ago a landmark case affected students’ rights of free speech.
In 1943, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette tested not only the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment but how far students would go to defend those rights. Following a precedent set by another school district that expelled students for refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag, West Virginia’s board of education made it compulsory for students and faculty to say the pledge daily. Anyone who refused faced disciplinary consequences from expulsion to threats of prosecution.

Two students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses challenged the law, arguing that their expulsion from school as a result of not saying the Pledge was in violation of their Constitutional rights to freely practice religion. Though their religion prohibited them from saluting the flag, they still faced punishment for remaining silent.

The case made it to the Supreme Court, where a 6-3 ruling declared it unconstitutional for schools to force students to salute a flag or recite the Pledge.
Today, the issue of standing for the Pledge remains a point of contention among most Americans, with some advocating for choice and some finding it necessary to show what they believe to be pride in one’s country. Freshman Ellie Nixon agrees with the ruling, despite being a proponent of standing and saluting the country.
“I think that everyone should, of their own accord, stand for and say the pledge,” Nixon said. “I think that all American citizens should willingly say the pledge, but they should never be forced to. “I believe that standing for the pledge should not be mandatory because that is a violation of free speech.”

How do you feel when you see people not say the Pledge of Allegiance? Is their silence protected speech?