This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
To the editors:
This past summer witnessed quite a moment in Pennsylvania history! No sooner did the National Constitution Center open in all of its glory than we are treated to a stirring, practical lesson on how our First Amendment rights can be better protected or restored.
I speak of Judge Robert Kelly’s federal court ruling striking down Pennsylvania’s obnoxious law requiring the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance by public and private school students. The judge made a particular point of upholding students’ rights of free expression.
This is the same law gleefully approved by all but one or two state House and Senate members last year in a fit of patriotic frenzy. As usual, we can thank Rep. Babette Josephs for her courage and integrity in opposing this legislation. Thanks also to the persistent and clear-headed people of the ACLU who handled the court challenge. They all deserve our financial and moral support.
Readers of the Notebook may have already seen this law for what it was: an assault on the First Amendment, on the constitutional right of dissent and a bad example for democracy in the schools. The law purported to teach patriotism by forcing the pledge recital and exposing students to ridicule and harassment (or parental sanction) when they refused to go along. Judge Kelly saw this as a requirement that "would chill the speech of certain students."
I hope readers will monitor how the ruling is being honored in our schools. We shouldn’t be surprised if certain administrators and their political allies choose to ignore the court’s decision in the name of a "higher patriotism." It may take greater vigilance on the part of students and teachers who truly respect the Bill of Rights.