In most classrooms, this is the morning ritual. 
Photo: Sunny Sung/AJC
Photo: Sunny Sung/AJC

Politicians exploit charter school’s step back from Pledge of Allegiance 

An AJC story today about a local k-8 charter school eliminating the Pledge of Allegiance from its morning ritual is riling readers and politicians. 

The Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School will use a later classtime for the pledge rather than at its schoolwide gathering of parents and students, citing the increasing number of participants not standing or reciting the pledge. 

Among the comments of dismay sent to me: 

Teaching our kids to join organizations like ANTIFA and against the American way of life.

The communists are winning.

Prepare your spitballs and worse: I don’t think this is a big deal.

I stand for the pledge and always will, but it’s a symbolic act. I prefer people live American values rather than recite them. That comes in part from decades of writing about elected officials draping themselves in the flag while taking bribes and robbing taxpayers.

This is an easy outrage and one that Georgia politicians will exploit for its emotional drama. I half expect a new Brian Kemp for Governor ad where he drives that big truck and points that big gun at a roomful of slouching adolescents to compel them to stand and comply.

UPDATE: Kemp has turned this into political fodder. This is from his Facebook page:

House Speaker David Ralston, never one to overlook a gift-wrapped controversy, was the first state politician to seize the issue. 

What’s interesting about this response is that Ralston and other Republican leaders in the House support parent choice, and Atlanta Neighborhood Charter is a school of choice. Ralston trusts parents to choose their school, but not whether to recite the pledge at a school meeting.

It does not spell an end to the American way of life if schools don’t mandate the morning pledge. In fact, allowing citizens the freedom to sit out the pledge is the American way, as the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. 

In that 1943 ruling, the nation’s highest court said:

The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure, but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

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. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Students have a legal right not to stand for or recite the pledge, and metro districts told the AJC they understand the law and thus don’t force kids to do so.

As the AJC reported: 

The Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School will no longer recite the Pledge of Allegiance as part of its morning meeting agenda. Campus president Lara Zelski said students will have the opportunity to say the pledge at another point during the school day. The decision was made "in an effort to begin our day as a fully inclusive and connected community," Zelski said in a news release.

In a letter to “ANCS Families and Friends,” Zelski, elementary campus principal of Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, explained the decision.

‘One change that we made to our morning meeting agenda this year is that we will not be including the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. Students will continue to lead the meeting by asking our community to stand to participate in our Wolf Pack Chant together. Students will also be given the opportunity to say the pledge at another point during the school day within their classroom. This decision was made in an effort to begin our day as a fully inclusive and connected community.

‘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. There are many emotions around this and we want everyone in our school family to start their day in a positive manner. After all, that is the whole purpose of our morning meeting.’

Zelski did add that teachers and the K-5 leadership team will be working with students to create a school pledge “that we can say together at morning meeting. This pledge will focus on students’ civic responsibility to their school family, community, country and our global society.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.