Student Punished for Not Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Maryland

A school is under fire for trying to force a student to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In the photo, kindergarteners recite the Pledge with their teacher. If a student doesn't choose to participate, legally they do not have to. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

At a public high school in Maryland, refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance can get students in some pretty hot water.

Recently, a tenth-grader was "repeatedly harassed and intimidated" by teachers and the assistant principal for her lack of participation, according to the ACLU.

Since she was in seventh grade, Enidris Siurano Rodriguez has sat quietly during the Pledge. She's remained seated during the morning ritual for reasons tied to her feelings about United States government policies toward Puerto Rico. It hasn't been a problem until this year.

Rodriguez was told to stand during the pledge by her tenth-grade teacher, Deanna Jennings. She complied for a few months, but after she chose to sit, she was sent to the assistant principal.

David Rocah, staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, tells TakePart that "since 1943, it's been clear that schools can't do this." In Maryland specifically, while the statute requires that schools say the pledge every day, students who wish to be excused are to be excused.

The ACLU's letter to school administrators further explains:

The law is crystal clear that a public school cannot embarrass or harass a student for maintaining a respectful silence during the Pledge of Allegiance. “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,” the Supreme Court ruled famously in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).

Rocah said the assistant principal's reasoning for telling her she must stand was because she felt Rodriguez was being disrespectful to military families and the kids from military families in the school.

The high school Rodriguez attends is part of the Montgomery Country Public School system. There have been more incidents like this, Rocah says, than in any other jurisdiction in the state. "It's surprising," Rocah says, "because Montgomery County is one of the most politically progressive and educated counties in the state."

Aside from the legalities, Rocah says, "the other thing that was egregious about this incident was that it wasn't simply an individual teacher who didn't know what he or she was doing. It was the assistant principal at the school who was berating this kid."

The fact that "someone who cares about educating youth to live in a democracy would do that I find just baffling," Rocah says.

The ACLU's letter to school administrators asking for a meeting to discuss this issue was sent on Tuesday, April 9. The ACLU has yet to hear back.

Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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