ATLANTA — A federal appeals court yesterday invalidated part of a Florida law
requiring public school students to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance,
but the panel declined to rule on whether the rest of the statute is
That issue could resurface in a future case, said a lawyer for the American
Civil Liberties Union representing a former student who challenged the law.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta
agreed with a federal judge's decision that a provision requiring students and
other "civilians" to stand at attention during the pledge is
The judges, though, ruled in Frazier v.
Winn that that doesn't mean the rest of the law must be stricken. They
left standing provisions that require the pledge to be recited at the beginning
of each day, but also require that students be excused upon a parent's
They wrote that protecting parental rights can justify restricting students'
freedom of speech, but stressed "we decide and hint at nothing about the pledge
statute's constitutionality as applied to a specific student or a specific
division of students."
That "invites more litigation as to whether the statute can be applied to any
student," said ACLU lawyer Randall Marshall.
Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith said in a statement that he was
pleased the appellate court "recognized the balance between the exercise of free
speech and parents' right to direct and oversee their child's education and
The ACLU sued on behalf of a student who did not have a parental excuse and
was punished for refusing to stand during the pledge.
Teacher Cynthia Alexandre told Cameron Frazier, then a 17-year-old junior at
Boynton Beach High School, that he was "so ungrateful and so un-American" after
he twice refused to stand for the pledge, according to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp struck down the compulsory pledge law on
June 1, 2006. Ryskamp ruled the law and a similar Palm Beach County School Board
policy violated the First and Fourth Amendments.
The appeals court interpreted the law largely as a parental-rights issue.
"Most important, the statute ultimately leaves it to the parent whether a
schoolchild will pledge or not," said the opinion by Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson
and joined by Judges James C. Hill and Arthur L. Alarcon of the 9th Circuit.
"The state, in restricting the student's freedom of speech, advances the
protection of the constitutional rights of parents: an interest in which the
state may lawfully protect," the opinion said.
The state argued that the requirement that "civilians" stand doesn't apply to students who had been excused from reciting the pledge.
However, the appeals court noted that "No limiting terms apply to
'civilians'; it seems easily to cover all students."
Although Frazier’s general challenge to the law on its face failed, his claim
as to how the statute was specifically applied to him now returns to the federal