Blogs | Ethan Shorey

ACLU warns Pawtucket council on Pledge controversy

To no one's surprise, the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the controversy over whether a man should be asked to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at Pawtucket City Council meetings.

Read my original story on the issue.

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU, said in a letter that council members should be aware that Joe Hart has "a clear constitutional right not to stand for the Pledge," and "in light of some of the comments aimed at Mr. Hart for his conduct, a brief explanation of why protection of this right is important seems in order."

Brown said is has been more than 70 years since the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the First Amendment protects individuals from being forced to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.

"That initial case involved the disciplining of students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and who considered saluting the flag a form of idolatry," he said. "In one of the most cited quotes from a Supreme Court ruling, Justice Robert Jackson wrote in support of their First Amendment rights, '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.”

According to Brown, there are many reasons - religious, moral, philosophical and political - why some individuals refuse to stand for the Pledge.

"One of the fundamental principles the flag symbolizes is the freedom not to salute it," he said. "Compulsory patriotism is a disservice to what the flag represents. We hope that the City Council will forcefully and publicly reject any future efforts to intimidate members of the public who are exercising their First Amendment rights at City Council meetings."

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