6-year-old takes a knee during Pledge of Allegiance

The Constitution and America’s public schools have always had an uneasy relationship. Go figure.

If you don’t want to take part in the Pledge of Allegiance in the Pasco School District in Florida, you’ll need a note from your parents.

So when a 6-year-old took a knee during the Pledge, he got an admonishment from his teacher.

His mom got a text message from the teacher, ABC News reports.

“I knew where he had seen [kneeling], but I did tell him that in the classroom, we are learning what it means to be a good citizen, we’re learning about respecting the United States of America and our country symbols and showing loyalty and patriotism and that we stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” the teacher wrote.

The lad’s mother wasn’t surprised; he keeps up with the news, unlike many good U.S.citizens.

“What he did was have a difference of opinion. He was not being disrespectful. He was silently protesting and exercising his constitutional right,” McDowell told ABC News. “My concern is she infringed upon his constitutional right to express himself, to protest peacefully, and she also made him feel like his decision to come up with his own opinion about things was the wrong thing to do.”

The principal tells the Tampa Bay Times neither the boy nor his mother are in trouble.

But his mother isn’t buying it.

“It teaches him to be silent,” she tells the Times. “That’s why I am speaking out. No more silencing.”

Kids can’t be compelled to stand or say the Pledge of Allegiance, the paper says.

“They can sit there quietly, respectfully. But they don’t have to pledge allegiance to the flag,” Mat Staver, founder of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, a religious rights organization. “That has been a long-standing case.”

He acknowledged that Florida law allows school districts to ask for a parent letter excusing their children from participating, and that schools must then follow that direction. But Staver also suggested that the absence of such a letter would not likely disqualify a student from exercising his First Amendment rights.

“Even if he’s six,” Staver said.

A complicating factor arises, though, if the child engages in counter-speech — spoken or silent, such as taking a knee. That freedom is more clear outside the classroom than inside it, said Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer with the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

“The line that the Supreme Court has drawn is where your speech or conduct substantially disrupts the operation of school,” said LoMonte, who previously ran the Student Press Law Center. “And I don’t think the disruption is five other people also kneel.”

A Republican state senator says he’ll file an amendment to change the state has filed amendments to the law requiring parental permission to exercise a constitutional right but doesn’t think the flag is not the place to make a stand… or take a knee.

  • BJ
  • BReynolds33

    The Republican state Senator can amend the state Constitution all he wants. SCOTUS already ruled on this, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943. No one can be compelled to salute the flag or to recite the pledge of allegiance.

    Even if they are six, and even without a parent’s permission slip.

    • Nicholas Kraemer

      Maybe you should have read about Rep. Broxson’s bill (not the state Constitution) before weighing in on it. The bill would change where schools place the notice telling kids they don’t have to say the pledge (into the school handbook) . “The bill also clarifies that students excused from reciting the pledge don’t have to stand and place their hand over their heart.” http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/florida-lawmakers-support-changing-notice-of-pledge-of-allegiance-rights/2263634

      • BReynolds33

        Except the post says it is a Republican state Senator wants to change the state law. I never referenced a bill from a Representative.

        Not to mention the fact that a state law has even less chance of being upheld on Constitutionality. The case cited above requires no parental consent, as a 6 year old retains their Constitutional rights, even at school.

        Thanks, though.

        • Nicholas Kraemer

          The proposed change makes clear that students DO NOT have to stand for the pledge. The other change involves where the notice informing kids of their right to opt out will be posted. The idea that this bill is introducing a requirement for written permission is not correct. Here is the bill with the additions underlined and deletions struck through. Everything else already existed. Also, it should be noted that the bill referenced in the article, linked above in the blog post, died in house back in March 2016. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2016/1403/BillText/Filed/PDF

          • BReynolds33

            Again, you’re building straw men to knock them down. My point was that a state senator, a representative, a whomever they may be… can’t over ride the SCOTUS ruling, or the fact the first amendment says they don’t have to do a dang thing when it comes to forced patriotism.

            I don’t care what the current idea is. Or whatever the heck representative proposed whenever they did. Or what bill died in 2016.

            My point is… No laws need to be passed. The first amendment already exists, and outranks all of them. SCOTUS already ruled. I could not possibly care less where they put some notice they feel they need (or even if the law requires it). No rule or law is necessary or welcomed when the freedom is already guaranteed.

            If it supports the SCOTUS ruling, it is superfluous. If it opposes it, it is unconstitutional. Why should I care about them?

  • jon

    Ok, So I’d like to point out some hypocricy here with this whole flag thing.

    We spent a YEAR with people chanting make america great again (implying it’s not great now, heck the other side suggested it was great now, and no one paid them any mind.) now when some one doesn’t respect the flag, we are all up in arms about this crappy country that we need to make great (again) being disrespected.

    I’ve heard time and time again we are a “christian nation*,” with a pledge of allegiance…
    But then there is matthew 5:34 ” But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,” (you can read the surrounding verses if you please, brevity on my part) So our so called christian nation is pretty much looking at the bible and saying “nope!” (while saying Yup, to all kinds of things not mentioned in there… at least not in the parts of the bible with christ in them.) And there is that whole idol worship thing… (and so much more).

    I hear that it’s disrespectful to veterans, and if you don’t salute you should be shot, by veterans… because veterans are killing machines who we can only just barely control… which is not a particularly respectful view of veterans imho… (and most veterans I’ve heard from respect the rights of people to kneel, weather they agree with it or not.)

    So if half of what I’m hearing from the right is true, then being disrespectful to the flag is pretty much all that is called for…… Why are they so opposed to it? (I mean besides the fact that the core of the matter isn’t about the flag so much as the racial inequity in this country, and the lack of us doing much as a country to fix it, and anything that contains the word “racial” is obviously bad.)

    * It’s not.

    • The “… under God” was only added to the Pledge in 1954, by Congress, in the midst of McCarthyism.

      • jon

        Yup, fighting commies with good ol’ christianity…

        Acts 4:32
        “32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

      • RBHolb

        Sort of a “neener-neener” to the CPUSA after it was learned they opened their meetings with the pledge.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        I’ve often wondered how some of the founders of this nation would have reacted to that. Jefferson and Franklin were known to have a nuanced relationship with religion that is often difficult to define with the usual labels. (Though most historians classify them as deists.) John Adams was a Unitarian. James Madison was arguably an atheist. Last but not least George Washington was known to accompany Mrs. Washington to Sunday services, but left after the sermon and before communion.

        It doesn’t appear that any of the first 4 presidents, along with Franklin, signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, had much use for a “christian nation”.

      • >>The “… under God” was only added to the Pledge in 1954, by Congress, in the midst of McCarthyism.<<

        Ah, the good ol' "Red Scare" days…


      • Rob

        The Commie phobia our political leaders had – and the propagandizing of same by those folks – from the mid 1940s through the 1970s, is American Exceptionalism at its finest.

        I got so habituated to the threat of the Red Menace that I still check under my bed for Commies before I retire for the evening.

    • // you should be shot by veterans

      William Calley? #VietnamWarPBS

  • Mike

    You’d think educators would care a great deal about teaching U.S. history (including the unsavory bits), not so much about a pledge of allegiance. Why are the institutions that exist to teach kids how to think so preoccupied with indoctrination?

    • Barton

      I think educators do care about teaching actual US History. I just wonder if they are allowed to anymore?

      • Mike

        The best teachers do care about the essential mission of education. Unfortunately, however, school systems also seem to draw authoritarian personality types who care a lot more about submission and obedience than education.

        • Mike Worcester

          I would say that you could be even more specific — too many school administrators are cut from that cloth. (Yes, yes, not all, but wow there seems to be a personality type that permeates those ranks.)

          • RBHolb

            I think you’re right about that.

            When I was in 9th grade, some friends and I started an “underground” newspaper. The teachers were amused by it, and were some of our most loyal readers. The Principal and Assistant Principal were, however, less than charmed by our First Amendment frolic.

          • That’s awesome.

      • Rob

        I’m guessing few educators would last long if they taught the “warts and all” history of the U.S.

        • I wonder what the percentage of history teachers in the country assigned the Burns/Novick series to students in the last week.

          • MikeB

            While watching the series I was wondering if/how the Vietnam War is being taught in schools. Part of me thought it is still “too hot” given our political divisions, manufactured outrage culture etc. Could be a year round class itself, it’d be too hard to skim over so many issues and not do a deep dive.

          • Knute

            Maybe we need some input from Capt. Jeff Bibeau.

            From the way-way-back machine…

          • Oh , man, I miss doing those sorts of interviews. I miss when readers would give me “heads up” about people like this.

        • Mike

          In general, I think you’re right. I was very lucky to have a flaming liberal U.S. history teacher in high school, and this in a rural school district in a Southern state. She taught us about the women’s movement and the details of the Great Depression. She cast a lot of doubt on the official version of the JFK assassination. She was tremendous.

    • The religious right started its strategy for taking over government on school boards..

      • Jay T. Berken

        Judging by the Burn’s Vietnam series, it started with Nixon stoking up support for the Vietnam War. It worked in the short term.

        • LBJ had the same strategy. he just didn’t resort to outright treason to implement it.

    • AmiSchwab

      they want blind obediance.

  • Kassie

    I had no idea they still do the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. My schools stopped doing it in like 4th or 5th grade and I assumed the rest of the country did too. What’s the point? Just to make some kids feel uncomfortable? Aside from the religious groups that opt out of any pledges, there are many others who would want their kids to sit out. That just puts a mark on those kids for being different.

    • Postal Customer

      the point is to indoctrinate the next generation of jingoes.

      • jon

        Makes you wonder where they screwed up that the indoctrination didn’t stick in some of us…

        • The part where they told us we should be patriotic and we learned what that word actually meant.

    • We used to have to sing, “my country tis of the”, which is weird.

      • emersonpie

        Maybe because across the pond they were singing “God Save the Queen”, from which the tune came.

        • Barton

          I have to admit, I still kinda sing this as “Our country ’tis of thee, sweet land of Liberty, God save the Queen…” I just can’t remember the correct line.

          • Rob

            “God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being” — is that the line you’re thinking of?

          • Jeff C.

            Of thee I sing.

        • Pretty sure that’s not it. :*)

      • fromthesidelines21

        We did both. I agree, weird.

      • Kassie

        We had to sing “Its a Grand Old Flag” after the Pledge. Having not sung that song, or said the pledge, since I was 10, I somehow still remember all the words. I cannot sing my high school fight song though. Or remember what I did last Sunday…

        • Jerry

          Went to the library

      • shleigh

        My second-grade teacher played Lee Greenwood’s Proud to be an American daily. Talk about weird!

        • Rob

          Mine played “I’m Proud To Be An American” by The Tubes (“two chickens in every garage!”)

        • Worst. Song. Ever.

  • Barton

    When I was in 5th grade (in PA), I had my first experience with someone not standing during the Pledge. It was my first time being in a school with people who weren’t either Catholic, Jewish or Baptist. These were a group of Mormons, and it was against their religion to pledge to anyone but God (I am paraphrasing here a bit). It was discussed on the first day of classes why they do not participate so there wouldn’t be any “talk.” And that was that.

    So, I wonder, if this potential bill to require parental notification of “constitutional rights” doesn’t infringe on the persons religious freedom rights as well (let alone the idea that kids aren’t autonomous units separate from their parents).

  • Mike Worcester

    Minnesota has for nearly fifteen years required the pledge be spoken in schools, with certain exceptions. The debate in 2002 over this followed what one would call predictable lines, to the point that the Roseville American Legion asked that Senator John Marty return to them the flags they ad donated to his office because he was a “no” vote. (At least that is what I am recalling.)

    Students can opt out, and interestingly enough school officials are not allowed to question their motivations (though I wonder how many abide by that rule).

    This link helps explain the details but beware, it comes from the (gasp!) ACLU via the StarTribune.

  • Jeff C.

    When I was in high school in Massachusetts in the mid-80s I didn’t stand for the Pledge, either. I thought it was silly to go through the motions without caring about what I was saying. (I came to that realization in church one Sunday, but that’s another story.) I was quiet and respectful. Nobody told my parents. Nobody seemed to care. Hell, nobody seemed to notice!

    • Rob

      You must have had your Indivisibility Cloak on…

    • Rob

      I always remember to salute when dusting with Lemon Pledge.

    • It never made since to that in the pledge of allegiance, the flag comes before “the republic for which it stands.”

      That’s insane.