Last updated on: 7/15/2021 | Author:

Does Public School Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance Constitute Undue Coercion?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Editor’s Note: Since 2009 when this question was last reviewed for updates, discussion of this aspect of the debate has all but disappeared in the public sphere.

July 15, 2021

PRO (yes)


In Newdow v. US (decided June 26, 2002), the US Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, in a decision written by Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, held that:

“The [school’s] policy and the Act [1954 Act adding ‘under God’ to the Pledge] fail the coercion test. Just as in Lee [Lee v. Weisman, 1992], the policy and the Act place students in the untenable position of choosing between participating in an exercise with religious content or protesting.”

June 26, 2002 - Newdow v. US


Michael Newdow, JD, stated in his Apr. 2005 brief (1.2 MB) before the California Eastern District Court in Newdow et al. v. US Congress (not yet decided as of May 29, 2009):

“There is no question that small children have essentially no choice but to join their fellow students when led by their teachers in a daily ritual, or that the rare young person with sufficient fortitude to display her disbelief in God would not be ostracized in today’s society by exempting herself from such a routine.”

Apr. 2005 - Newdow Brief.pdf


The Anti-Defamation Leagues (ADL), in a statement from its Vice Chair for Civil Rights Martin Karlinsky, was quoted in the Nov. 14, 2003 article “Jewish Organizations Split Over Pledge Case Strategy,” published in the Forward daily newspaper, as having stated:

“We’re dealing with schoolchildren and with role models in schools who are required to lead it. The circumstances are inherently fraught with compulsion or coercion and we feel that’s a violation of church-state separation.”

Nov. 14, 2003


The Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), in a June 29, 2003 press release “Supreme Court Should Leave Pledge Decision In Place, Says Americans United,” posted on the AU website, quoted its Legal Director Ayesha Khan as having said:

The Supreme Court has consistently held that the government may not coerce children to participate in religious exercises of any kind. When Congress added ‘under God’ to the Pledge, it turned a patriotic ritual into a religious testimonial, and that’s not acceptable in our public schools.”

[Editor’s Note: In a March 29, 2007 email to, Lauren Smith, Communications Assistant for the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, affirmed her organization’s support for the above stated position.] June 29, 2003

CON (no)


In Myers v. Loudoun County (decided Aug. 10, 2005), the US Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit, in a 3-0 decision written by Judge Karen Williams, held that:

“Thus, the fact that indirect coercion may result from voluntary recitation of the Pledge in school classrooms is of no moment under the Establishment Clause. Because the Pledge is by its nature a patriotic exercise, not a religious exercise.”

Aug. 10, 2005 - Myers v. Loudoun County


US Department of Justice (DOJ), wrote in its Dec. 2003 brief (352 KB) in Elk Grove v. Newdow:

“First, the court of appeals’ ‘coercion’ analysis fails because it is based on the false premise that reciting the Pledge is a religious exercise. The test for unconstitutional coercion is not whether some aspect of the public school curriculum has ‘religious content’ (Pet. App. 13), but whether the government itself has become pervasively involved in or effectively coerced a religious exercise.”

Dec. 2003


Barack Obama, JD, US President, stated in his June 28, 2006 speech “Call to Renewal Keynote Address,” available on his website:

“A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation — context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t.”

June 28, 2006