Supreme Court declines Pledge of Allegiance case

A Florida high-schooler refused to stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance, sparking a legal fight. An appeals-court panel didn't rule his way, and now the Supreme Court won't get involved.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A Florida teenager has lost his bid to have the US Supreme Court decide whether students in public schools have a First Amendment right to refuse to stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.

The underlying lawsuit did not challenge the content of the Pledge. Instead, at issue was a Florida law that requires all public-school students, Grades K-12, to stand and repeat the Pledge, unless excused in writing by a parent.

The law was passed in 1942 and had apparently gone unchallenged until December 2005. That's when Cameron Frazier, a junior, arrived for his fourth-period math class at Boynton Beach High School and informed the teacher that as a matter of conscience, he would neither stand nor recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

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"You clearly have no respect. You are so ungrateful and so un-American," the math teacher told Cameron in front of the class. "Do you know what's out there fighting our war? That flag you refuse to show respect to."

Cameron stood his ground. "No," he said. "Our soldiers are out fighting a war. The flag is an inanimate piece of cloth that doesn't move and surely can't hold a gun."

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the case. No reason for the decision was offered.

In seeking high-court review of the case, called Frazier v. Smith, Mr. Frazier's lawyers had asked the justices to decide whether he and other students have a constitutional right to refuse to be compelled by the government to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.

To resolve the case, the justices would have had to clarify a landmark 1943 ruling in which the high court declared schoolchildren in West Virginia may not be required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The issue in the Frazier case was whether the First Amendment right established in the West Virginia decision belongs to the children alone or instead extends to the children through their parents.

A federal judge in Florida agreed that the right belongs to the students and struck down the Florida law. But a federal appeals-court panel later upheld the law on grounds that the First Amendment right belongs to parents of school-age children – not the children themselves.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida took up Frazier's case. In a brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the appeal, ACLU lawyer Randall Marshall quoted from the 1943 West Virginia decision.

"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."

Florida Solicitor General Scott Makar urged the high court to refuse to hear the case. "The state, of course, recognizes that minors have constitutional rights, albeit more limited ones than adults, especially in the area of education," Mr. Makar wrote in his brief to the court. "The state's clear legal position is simply that minors' rights must be balanced against those of their parents and the interests of the government in the education context."

In a friend-of-the court brief, two advocacy groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Public Good, said the appeals-court opinion in the Frazier case is a departure from a long and unbroken line of decisions.

"In upholding a Florida statute that limits students' clearly established right to abstain from reciting the pledge of allegiance in school, the court of appeals created a new parental right to control the exercise of their children's conscience," Seth Mermin wrote in the brief.

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On the docket

Do depictions of animal cruelty fall short of First Amendment protection? The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday. Click here to read more.

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