The recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in Wake County schools could come with a lesson about the way people have been coerced to recite the pledge during the nation’s history.
All North Carolina public schools are required under a 2006 state law to schedule time each day for students to recite the pledge, although students can’t be compelled to participate. But a proposed Wake County school board policy goes further to say the district’s citizenship curriculum “may encourage teachers to use the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as an opportunity to teach students about the history concerning coercion and the importance of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.”
A school board committee recommended Tuesday sending the policy to the full board for approval. After the meeting, board members and school administrators said they were simply including language suggested by the N.C. School Boards Association.
“It’s not a Wake County school board policy or story,” said school board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee. “You’ve got to dig into the School Boards Association.”
Representatives from the N.C. School Boards Association were not immediately able to say Tuesday why the mention of teaching about coercion is in their suggested policy. Wake is reviewing all its policies to align them with the association’s policy manual.
Some North Carolina school districts have adopted identical wording in their citizenship policies, while others stop short of explicitly mentioning coercion in relation to the pledge as a teaching issue.
Views on the new wording varied across the political spectrum.
“Wake County’s citizenship curriculum offers an opportunity to underline for students the history of free speech in our country,” Christopher Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a written statement. “The curriculum is a great chance to reiterate the protections afforded us by the First Amendment, including those against the government compelling individuals to engage in speech.”
But Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative Raleigh think tank, said Wake was bringing unnecessary controversy to the issue.
“Most families would not want to use the pledge in that way,” Stoops said in an interview Tuesday. “There are plenty of other ways to talk about coercion and the role of the First Amendment that don’t involve something as personal as the pledge.”
Reciting the pledge in public schools has a contentious history.
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools can’t force students to recite the pledge.
In more recent years, legal challenges have been filed against the pledge having the words “under God” – which Congress added in 1954. In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed on technical grounds a lawsuit that contended the words “under God” violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
More states began requiring or encouraging public schools to schedule daily recital of the pledge after 9/11. Forty-five states have statutes addressing the recitation of the pledge in schools, according to Joellen Kralik, a research analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Martin said Wake’s revised policy is only an effort to follow the law.
“We’re not trying to make an issue about it one way or the other,” he said.