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Pledge allegiance or else: Maryland public school forces students and teachers to salute the flag

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WATCH: No, you can't be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance

Pledge allegiance or else: Maryland public school forces students and teachers to salute the flag

UPDATED (June 4, 2024): VICTORY! After FIRE wrote to Twin Ridge Elementary School about the unconstitutionality of mandating that students and staff participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, not only did the school send a corrective notice to staff but a notice was also sent to school administrators across the county. Now the students and staff of Frederick County Public Schools are free to exercise their First Amendment rights and make a choice, rather than be compelled, to participate in the Pledge. FIRE commends Twin Ridge Elementary School and Frederick County Public Schools for correcting its directive on participation in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

PHILADELPHIA, May 30, 2024 — The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression today demanded that a public elementary school in Maryland retract its unconstitutional guidance that students and staff must stand and salute the U.S. flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

On April 26, Twin Ridge Elementary School in Mount Airy, a D.C. and Baltimore suburb, emailed all staff attempting to clear up questions about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The email told staff that under the Maryland Education Code, “all students and teachers are required ‘to stand and face the flag and while standing give an approved salute and recite in unison the pledge of allegiance.’”

But the school omitted the crucial fact that Maryland law also includes an opt-out provision saying that “any student or teacher who wishes to be excused from the requirements . . . shall be excused.” The option to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t only required by state law — it’s required by the First Amendment, which bars the government from forcing anyone to affirm any viewpoint or ideology.

FIRE’s letter calls on Twin Ridge Elementary School to retract the erroneous directive and notify staff and students about their rights under both Maryland law and the Constitution to decline to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“The First Amendment protects not only your right to express yourself, but also the right to refrain from doing so,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Stephanie Jablonsky. “That includes refusing to salute the flag. Mandatory patriotism is no patriotism at all.”

Twin Ridge Elementary School didn’t only misrepresent Maryland law. It also ignored nearly a century of Supreme Court precedent. The court ruled in the landmark 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that the First Amendment does not allow public schools to compel students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein,” wrote Justice Robert Jackson for the majority.

While Barnette involved grade school students, its forceful articulation of freedom of conscience extends beyond that context. For example, later Supreme Court rulings have protected public employees from compulsory oath participation. As the Court said in one case, “neither federal nor state government may condition employment on taking oaths that impinge on rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

“Liberty and justice for all means liberty and justice for all, including students and teachers who dissent from the government position,” said FIRE Director of Public Advocacy Aaron Terr. “Forced loyalty oaths violate the very ideals that make America worth pledging allegiance to in the first place.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.


Alex Griswold, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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