RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Mandate Daily Opportunity for Pledge of Allegiance in Schools (HB 3014) (2013)

Representative Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) introduced HB 3014, which would have required Oregon public schools, including public charter schools, to hang a U.S. flag in every classroom and to provide a daily opportunity for a student or teacher to lead the students in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Under current law, schools are required to provide this opportunity once weekly.

The ACLU of Oregon has had long standing concerns about this statute, primarily because we  believe it is vulnerable to a challenge under the Oregon constitution’s religious freedom provision, Article I, section 5. The Pledge of Allegiance includes “One Nation under God” and yet our constitution states in part: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any religious (sic), or theological institution…”

Current law allows for students to refrain from reciting the Pledge and, when doing so, they “must maintain a respectful silence during the salute.” Numerous students report to our office, however, that in practice students are required to stand for the Pledge or otherwise forced to participate in the Pledge against their beliefs, be they religious or for other reasons. The right to express oneself by not participating in the Pledge includes the right to remain seated while others stand. The famous case of Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist. 393 U.S. 503 (1969) upheld the rights of students to silently protest by wearing black armbands. Remaining seated during the Pledge is a form of silent expression just like the black armbands in Tinker.

The practical result of HB 3014 was to risk that students would be ostracized when they cannot or choose not to participate in the Pledge for whatever reasons. The ACLU believes it is callous for the government to force schoolchildren of minority faiths to isolate themselves from their classmates to avoid participating in a religious exercise in violation of their conscience. HB 3014 would have forced children to do so not just weekly, but daily. For these reasons, we testified in opposition to HB 3014 and, in response to our concerns, the Senate Committee on Education amended the bill to require only that flags be posted in every classroom but that the requirements to recite the Pledge preserve the status quo: weekly, rather than daily.

PASSED
Vote: 42-16-2 House SCORECARD VOTE 
28-2 Senate
49-8-2 House concurrence