PHILADELPHIA – A state law that would have required schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (search) or sing the national anthem daily is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. Because of the court challenge, the law has never been in effect.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) ruled unanimously that the law violates the free-speech rights of students and the right of private schools to "free expressive association."
The law allowed schools to opt out of the pledge requirement for religious reasons, but not for secular reasons. Students could decline on the basis of religious conviction or personal belief, but if they did so, the law required parental notification.
The appeals court agreed with a judge's ruling in 2003 that the threat of parental notification was coercive, thus violating students' rights to free speech.
"Obviously we're disappointed," said Sean Connolly, spokesman for Attorney General Jerry Pappert. "We will review the court's decision ... to determine whether we will seek an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court."
The lawsuit plaintiffs included a high school student and several private schools that objected to the pledge being mandatory.
Larry Frankel, legislative director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (search), called the decision "a victory for students who have the right to exercise the First Amendment without their parents being notified."
More than 25 states require the pledge to be recited during the school day, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit national association of state education officials.
Pennsylvania's law was supposed to go into effect in February 2003. Its legislative sponsor, Rep. C. Allan Egolf, has said he introduced the measure after talking to veterans who told him that many schools no longer routinely recite the pledge.