The Nebraska Board of Education on Friday unanimously voted to approve a rule change that will make it mandatory for the state’s public schools to set aside time daily for the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to KHAS-TV, the decision, which will affect all students from kindergarten to 12th grade, must still pass through the attorney general’s office and the governor. Both are expected to approve the policy.
The change in question applies to Rule 10, which governs all Nebraska schools and districts. Failure to comply with the new requirement could put districts at risk of losing their accreditation and therefore state funds, the Sioux City Journal reports.
Students will not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance under the new rule, as they will have the option of standing or sitting quietly, provided they respect peers who do participate. However, schools will be required to allocate time for the Pledge.
According to the Sioux City Journal, state board candidate Bob Van Valkenburg proposed an amendment Friday that would require flags be present in every classroom, and that all students stand during the recitation of the pledge even if they elect not to join in. Van Valkenburg also championed requiring students who do not recite the pledge to write a 50-word essay on what it means to be an American.
Board member Bob Evnen reportedly said the voluntary aspect of the rule was implemented so as to comply with the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, an official with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska described the new state rule as “disappointing,” but apparently constitutional, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
ACLU Nebraska legal director Amy Miller told the paper her organization receives 1-2 complaints a year from students and teachers who claim they were pressured into reciting the pledge.
“Each time we’ve had a complaint, we’ve made contact with the school and showed them the clear law that says no one can be required to participate in the pledge, and that’s resolved the situation,” she said.
According to the Associated Press, the state board decided to pass the rule change — which will take effect sometime this school year — after Nebraska lawmakers did not succeed in advancing a law that would require recitation of the pledge.
After being repeatedly punished for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, New Jersey high school student Chelsea Stanton finally won her battle in June after using the law to her advantage. Stanton, a senior and atheist at Collingswood High School, objected to the phrase “one nation under God” and was sent to administrative offices twice for violating the school code of conduct.
However, she found a state provision requiring students to stand was held unconstitutional by the United States Court of Appeals in 1978, but was never revised to reflect the ruling.
Similar to the situation in Nebraska, a bill requiring every Michigan public school student to recite the pledge and every classroom to display a flag was approved by the state Senate last November. The bill does note a student “shall not be compelled” to participate if they or their parents object.