ACLU had warned of legislators that bill could lead to legal challengeOn a 7-7 vote, the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee today blocked a bill intended to require schools to notify parents when their children refused to recite or stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. HB 1912 passed the House of Delegates on a 93-4 vote.
Had it passed, HB 1912 would have required the State Board of Education to issue guidelines regarding schools notifying parents when their children decline to recite or stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Although the bill did not compel the Board of Education to mandate parental notification, the bill’s patron, Delegate Mark L. Cole, had made it clear that his reason for introducing the bill is to require schools to inform parents when their children refuse to participate in recitations of the Pledge.
The ACLU also warned committee members that it was prepared to mount a legal challenge if HB 1912 became law, and the Board of Education allowed schools to notify parents when their children refuse to participate in recitations of the Pledge
“There is little doubt that the purpose of this bill was to punish students who exercise their free speech right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis.
“Schools are certainly free to open their day with the Pledge of Allegiance,” added Willis. “But lawmakers should remember that the right not speak against your own beliefs is one of those constitutional rights we pledge to protect.”
Cole’s bill came in the wake of a controversy that developed in Spotsylvania County last fall after a student was threatened with punishment for refusing to stand for or recite the Pledge. That student, with help from the ACLU, cited a recent Virginia law explicitly giving him the right to refuse to participate in recitations of the Pledge.
In a memo to the Senate Education and Health Committee, the ACLU noted that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals last year struck down a Pennsylvania parental notification law, finding that it was intended to “chill speech by providing a disincentive to opting out” of Pledge recitations.
A copy of the ACLU’s memo is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20050217-HB-1912-Pledge-notification-Bil-2.pdf.
ACLU of Virginia Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director Aimee Perron Seibert, Legislative Director 804-644-8022