Pledge of Allegiance debate sparks controversy in Frederick County

Should students and teachers be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? It’s a topic that’s recently caused some confusion and a little bit of controversy in Frederick County.

Pledge of Allegiance debate sparks controversy in Frederick County

Here’s the backstory: Officials with Frederick County Public Schools said that in late April, a message was sent to staff at Twin Ridge Elementary School in Mount Airy. It said in part, "recently there have been questions about reciting the pledge of allegiance in classrooms." The message then cited a Maryland law in saying all students and teachers are required to say the pledge.

"It’s a complete nonstarter under the First Amendment," Aaron Terr said of the message Tuesday.

Terr is the director of public advocacy with The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which calls itself a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to defending freedom of speech. He said a concerned staff member reached out to them, and officials with FIRE then sent a letter to the school, saying in part, "the First Amendment and Maryland law protect the rights of those who wish to abstain."

"Forcing participation in the Pledge of Allegiance in particular undermines the very ideals of liberty and individual rights that the pledge is meant to honor," Terr added.

The school changed course, with district officials noting that the original message contained inaccurate information. Another message was sent to Twin Ridge staff, which said, "we must allow anyone who chooses not to participate the right to make that choice."

Outside of a Mount Airy grocery store Tuesday night, Fox 5 asked shoppers whether students and teachers should have to stand for and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Reactions were mixed.

Pledge of Allegiance debate sparks controversy in Frederick County

"Nobody should be required to recite a pledge if they don’t believe in it," said Leslie Dickinson.

"That’s one of the ways that we can stand together and teach our kids to be proud of our country," countered Kathleen Champion.

FCPS officials said administrators at other schools in the county were also told that if people don’t want to participate in the pledge, that’s their right.