Many public schools in the United States ask students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Some students object to the practice for reasons of conscience. Both the Oregon Legislature and the courts have developed a common-sense solution to the conflict: a school may lead students in reciting the Pledge, but it must also respect the wishes of students who choose not to join in.
This has been the rule since the early 1940's. Nonetheless, some school officials impose school discipline or other punishments on students who refuse to recite the Pledge or require students to stand even though the student does not wish to participate in the flag salute. Such actions violate state and federal law.
The right of a student to refrain from participating during the pledge is part of Oregon's law governing school districts.
ORS 339.875 Procurement, display and salute of flags. (1) Each district school board shall:
(b) Provide students with the opportunity to salute the United States flag at least once each week of the school year by reciting: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
(2) Students who do not participate in the salute provided for by this section must maintain a respectful silence during the salute. [Formerly 332.100 and then 336.045 and then 336.630; 1999 c.137 §1] (emphasis added)
This statute clearly indicates that student participation in reciting the Pledge is optional. This does not mean that non-participating students have license to cause disruptions while the rest of the class recites the Pledge. It does mean that if a student chooses to remain silent, the school must honor that decision.
Constitutional Sources for Oregon’s Statute
Oregon's statute is written this way to avoid infringing on students' freedom of belief, as guaranteed by the federal constitution. Many years ago, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a compulsory flag salute would violate students' First Amendment rights. The Court said:
"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."