Students don't have to stand during pledge

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

JUNEAU -- Juneau students won't be required to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance under a new policy approved by the Juneau School Board.

The Legislature passed a law last session that requires the pledge be recited regularly. The law sets a particular text, which includes the phrase ''one nation under God.'' Students can choose not to participate, but must maintain a respectful silence.

Under the school board's first attempt to implement the law, nonparticipating students were required to stand.

But the Alaska Civil Liberties Union argued that requiring students to stand violates a 1943 Supreme Court decision barring government officials from forcing citizens to confess their faith in matters of opinion by act or word.

So the board voted 6-1 Tuesday night to removed requirement, although some members weren't happy about it.

''I don't think rolling your eyes (as an example) is appropriate personally, because I don't think that's respectful silence,'' said board member Chuck Cohen, one of those voting yes.

Paul Grant, an attorney representing the ACLU, said rolling eyes or slouching is constitutionally protected expression as long as it doesn't disrupt classes.

The board also changed the policy to require a weekly recitation of the pledge instead of a daily one and clarified that a student could decline to recite the pledge for any reason or no reason at all.

Parent and attorney Robert Meachum told the board he was outraged that his middle school-age son was asked by school officials why he didn't want to participate.

Reaction from students at Juneau-Douglas High School was mixed.

''There' no reason for standing up if you're not going to say it,'' said Justin Bahm. ''Lots of people don't want to stand up or do the pledge.''

But Kristie Durand favored the original policy.

''There's 15 or 16 people in my family who died in wars fighting for the country so we can be free,'' Durand said. ''You should at least show your respect.''

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