What to do when a Scout won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance

Pledge-Allegiance-ScoutThe Dilemma: Few things seem as quintessentially American as the Pledge of Allegiance. Formally adopted by Congress during World War II (and amended in 1954 to include the words “under God”), the pledge has long been a fixture of civic gatherings, school assemblies and Scout meetings. It has also been a source of controversy, perhaps most notably when the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that forcing Jehovah’s Witnesses to recite it in school would be a violation of their religious beliefs.

The pledge is also a source of controversy in Troop 96, where a Life Scout has begun refusing to recite it, calling it meaningless because, he says, “the United States has an inconsistent record of providing liberty and justice for all.” When the troop recites the pledge, he now stands without saluting or saying a word.

The Scoutmaster has ignored this behavior but now says the Scout won’t be allowed to run for senior patrol leader. His argument: Leaders must set a good example, which the boy isn’t doing.

For Discussion
After reading the scenario with your Scouts, discuss these questions about the Pledge of Allegiance and Scouting:

  • Should Scouts be required to say the pledge? Why or why not?
  • If you said yes, should exceptions be made for religious reasons? Why or why not?
  • If you said yes, should exceptions be made for Scouts who aren’t citizens, such as the children of recent immigrants or foreign nationals? Why or why not?
  • If you said yes, should other exceptions be made? What are those exceptions?
  • Does saying the pledge demonstrate a Scout’s duty to his country? Does not saying it violate that duty? Explain your answer.
  • Next, discuss these questions about the Scout’s actions:
  • How is he being trustworthy, loyal and obedient by his actions? How is he violating those points of the Scout Law?
  • Would you judge his actions differently if he made a scene during the pledge (such as by turning his back on the flag or reciting song lyrics instead)? Why or why not?
  • Would you judge his actions differently if he were encouraging other Scouts to join his silent protest? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with the Scoutmaster that the boy should not be allowed to run for senior patrol leader? Why or why not?

Finally, have the Scouts decide what course of action the troop should take. Discuss these questions:

  • How is that solution fair to the troop?
  • How is that solution fair to the Scout?

36 Comments

  1. When I was leader of a 60-strong Cadette Girl Scout troop, we got a new member. Just before starting her first meeting, her Patrol Leader pointed out that she would not need to recite the Pledge because she was a Cuban refugee. She said she wanted to join in the Pledge because her family was looking forward to applying for US citizenship. No, a non-citizen should not be required to join in the Pledge ceremony, but should respect the moment.

    • No one is “required” to pledge allegiance to the flag or the country or the constitution or anything, but anyone “can” pledge allegiance to the flag. You don’t have to be a citizen. Non-citizens have served in our military and died for our country at different times in our history, most notably: World War II.

  2. Should Scouts be required to say the pledge? No, citizens in a free society must ever be required to say any type of loyalty oath. Not only would this violate freedom of association, but any level of compulsion renders the pledge invalid. I wish the pledge were more like the Scout Oath. I wish it expressed allegiance to the principles of justice and liberty instead of expressing allegiance to the republic because the Scout described above is right, our republic has an uneven record when it comes to liberty and justice.

    Does saying the pledge demonstrate a Scout’s duty to his country? No, citizens in a democracy have a duty to participate in that democracy, but their participation is not always consistent with the concept of “allegiance.” Responsible participation in THIS democracy includes civil disobedience and revolution, most notably, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Again, I wish the pledge was about allegiance to principles instead of “the republic.”

    How is he being trustworthy, loyal and obedient by his actions? The Scout described above is being trustworthy because he does not say things which he does not believe. He is being loyal to his ideals. He is being obedient by standing respectfully in formation.

    Would you judge his actions differently if he made a scene during the pledge? Yes, because such actions would demonstrate irreverence toward his fellow Scouts.

    Would you judge his actions differently if he were encouraging other Scouts to join his silent protest? No, all men of character inspire others to do what is right (as far as they understand right from wrong.)

    Do you agree with the Scoutmaster that the Scout should not be allowed to run for senior patrol leader? No, the Scout is a young man of high ideals. He takes himself seriously. He is setting a good example for his troop. If he were elected senior patrol leader, I would recommend he write a new flag ceremony which did not include the pledge. I would love to hear the Scouts recite an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address every week. America has lots of great oratory to choose from.

    • Very thoughtful responses above. As a member of the Sons of the American Legion, I enjoy reciting the American Legion preamble for the reasons you have described.

    • While this country has “an inconsistent record of providing liberty and justice for all.”, it also has a strong track record of correcting these errors. This is a country that continuously overcomes it’s shortcomings. I respect the integrity of this Scout for standing for his ideals, and I’d see it as an opportunity to discuss them and hopefully convince him that while we aren’t, haven’t been, and probably never will be perfect. We’ve done an exceptional job of trying to be. Lastly, while he has every right to refuse the Pledge, so does the Troop have the right to deny a leadership position if they feel his position is inconsistent with theirs.

    • Agree. I think that he is an example of a great leader should be. He will do great as a SPL. We need to teach scouts not to be followers and recite a pledge just because you need to, we need leaders that are critical of the systems in the same way the founding fathers did with England. A scout needs to be fare and just. In Puerto Rico we do
      The pledge to US and PR flag only in formal ceremonies. 2 or 3 times a year.

  3. While I think that the reply to this question was thorough I do believe it misses the mark. Pretty much all of the solutions had nothing to do with this Scout’s refusal to say the pledge. The Scout’s reason relies on an impossible concept that people and countries are perfect. A question to ask would be “Have you ever made a mistake?” or “Have they been times where you did not follow the Scout Law?” A discussion could then follow on how that parallels the Pledge of Allegiance. A reminder that the Scout Oath uses the words “I will do my best” to demonstrate that Scouting recognizes that we may not always follow the Oath and Law. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make our best effort.

  4. I cannot believe what some of you people are saying. If a scout or scouter does not believe in what this organization stands for, then he should get out of it . As leaders, we should lead by example and help mold these young men into good citizens. The boy in this example cannot be allowed to pick out the rules and requirements that he wants to do , or follow, and ignore the rest. If he is allowed to do that, then how in the world did he pass the rank requirements to be where he is.
    My boys are taught to be proud of the organization they belong to and respect the country they live in. By-the-way, check that strip above the right pocket of your scout shirt.
    Surprise!!!!,, it says, Boy Scouts of America. Yes, America. Respect it and the BSA or maybe you should belong to either.
    I need to end this now because I am getting too upset.
    Yes, you have your right to express your opinions too, but please don’t water- down our Boy Scouts any more than has been done lately.

    • I find the pledge of allegiance to be the most un-American thing in the world. The founders of our country would be aghast to learn that it has become a custom and that anyone would consider forcing someone to pledge allegiance.

    • Agreed. Either you agree with the program and how it is run or go find another. It is always being changed to fit that one person in instead of sticking to the ways of the Boy Scouts of America.

  5. I would be impressed by the Boy Scout who decides to display the COURAGE to take a dissident stand. It is when we are teenagers that we begin to be able to speak for ourselves. This is as American as apple pie, and while the boy in question may not understand this at the time, he is exercising his right as given in the Constitution.

    In fact, I would bet my leg that the boy is protesting, not to be insolent or disobedient, but because HE CARES about something. That boy has civics-oriented mind that should he should be allowed to explore. I don’t know how many times, especially as a young adult, my opinions wavered from socialisitic, to libertarian, to apathetic, to nationalistic. At all times, due to my upbringing and values instilled through Scouting, it was because I cared about what was happening.

    If this boy has the courage to stand up for something that he believes in, considering authority and peer pressure, he has shown leadership. This, as long as he respects other Scouts rights and opinions to do otherwise.

    Our young men show duty to God and Country in many ways. Some do by saying the Pledge and being upstanding citizens. Some serve our country, putting their lives on the line. And some take a stand for something greater than their reputation and position. All equate to duty, as long as it is genuine. Foster it, and they will discover themselves in the process.

  6. Can one care when one shows “apathy”? Does a Scout have line item veto authority over the oath and the law? Can a Scout disobey any order of a leader – adult or child, as a matter of conscience, thereby showing his “loyalty” to whatever parts of the Scouting beliefs he cares to select on whichever day he is being socialistic, libertarians, vegetarian, humanitarian, etc.? And can he show “duty to God” by professing a belief in no God, thereby showing his loyalty to something? And how about if they all do it at the same time? Any volunteers to lead that Troop?

    • Can a Scout disobey the order of a leader as a matter of conscience? I certainly hope so – we are training Scouts, not Gestapo. I’m sure more than once, Scout leaders have given orders that were wrong. They may have been *legal* bit still wrong, and it is everyone’s duty to refuse to do something wrong. In fact, it is what we *expect* Scouts to do.

    • Are you kidding me ( us ) ?
      What you are saying is; if he believes that he can safely drive his car 30 or 50 mph over the posted speed limit, he
      should be allowed to do so.?!?!?!?!
      ;

      • That’s a ridiculous false equivalency; Speed Limits are mandated by law. No one in the United States has a legal requirement to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The BSA CHOOSES to, just as major league sport choose to line players up for the national anthem. A Scout who stands silently and respectfully is no comparison to reckless endangerment.

  7. I agree with the scoutmaster’s actions of not letting him be eligible for being the senior patrol leader because the scout is not setting a good example for the other scouts or following the scout law.
    He is not showing loyalty to his country by not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. In my family, my parents sometimes make mistakes. Even though they do this sometimes I am still loyal to them and respect them. They deserve my respect because they provide food and take care of me. Just like my parents, our country has made mistakes but we should still respect it because it tries to make fair laws and keep us safe. The scout should still follow the scout law and be loyal to our country.
    Another part of the scout law is being obedient, and this scout is not being obedient to his troop rules of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

  8. I just ran across this article whilst doing research for my BSA Commissioner Doctoral thesis – which is on the topic of Scouts & Scouters who do not say the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag. I originally thought my theis, when published, would help Scouts (and their families) of my faith – but earlier this month, during the Doctoral course I was teaching at my Council’s College, I mentioned my topic and was strongly encouraged by a former Council Commissioners and the Dean of our College to do it! Seems a topic that comes up frequently among Commissioners on a much wider scale.

    So yes there should be exceptions made for Scouts and Scouters who refuse to say the Pledge on religious grounds. I know that there are several faiths that practice this. As long as the Scout is standing respectfully during the flag ceremony and pledge it isn’t a problem.

    Withholding advancement for a Scout who practices his faith so fully/completely is unacceptable – a threat made by one Scoutmaster (within the last year) to a Scout of my faith because he refused to say the Pledge and salute the flag during flag ceremonies! I had quite the email conversation with this Scouts mother and even told her to give the Scoutmaster my phone number and call me, or give me his number and I’d call him. Since I haven’t heard anymore, I assume that the Scoutmaster was convinced by the mother that he was wrong and that her son received the rank advancement he had earned.

    • ‘MAM’,
      WITH ALL DUE RESPECT FOR YOUR OPINION, I BELIEVE THAT IT IS WRONG. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT TOPIC AND I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE THE ANSWER FROM NATIONAL BSA. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO THE YOUNG MEN OF OUR COUNTRY.
      RON

    • Sorry but the above article had nothing to do with rank advancement. It did talk about a leadership position but that is not rank.

  9. Many people are focused on “rights” as opposed to what you AGREE to do when you choose to request membership in a private organization.

    CAN a boy NOT say the Pledge in his public school classroom? Sad that he would ever want to do so, but YES he can do that.

    CAN a BOY SCOUT pick and choose which parts of the Scouting program he wants to follow and obey? NOT AT ALL!!

    While Scouting has no mandate to recite the Pledge at every meeting, it IS required to know it and recite it for Scout rank (Requirement 1F), and BSA publications routinely say meetings “start with a Flag Ceremony”. I’ve yet to see a flag ceremony that doesn’t include the Pledge of Allegiance… so is the “requirement” there through implication? Any rational thinking person would say it is.

    Exceptions exist, but they do not offset the norm.

    MAYBE you have a boy who is an exchange student or has religious convictions against taking “oaths”, OK that’s fine. Just as Olympians stand in respect without saluting when another country’s anthem is played, so too should those boys stand and be respectful. But for 99.9% of everyone else, SHAME on any Scoutmaster who doesn’t insist the boys repeat the Pledge loudly and proudly.

    • Scouts and Scouters of the Quaker faith do have a religious conviction, going back over 350 years, of not swearing to an oath . . . exempt therefore from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during any Scout flag ceremony and therefore should never be penalized in any form for not doing so. They will however stand and be respectful and reverent during such a flag ceremony.

      As the Clerk (head) of Friends Committee on Scouting, Quaker religious awards, I will stand behind any Quaker Scout or Scouter who does not recite the Pledge or salute the flag. They have my full support.

      Do I say the Pledge or salute the flag . . . doesn’t matter.

  10. Can a Scout not recite the pledge, yes. He is within his rights to make a moral decision on this and enjoy scouting

    Can same scout be SPL, No.

    Can Same scout get Eagle. No.

    I’d stop them a PL and Life.

    Why because both those jobs require being a prototypical Example scout in their everyday life. A description i can’t apply to said scout above in the area of Citizenship.

    • I disagree – these Scouts can be, and many have been, SPL’s and gone on to become Eagle Scouts . . . as a leader you cannot without the Scout a rank for which they have completed all the requirements that are spelled out in the handbook . . . and there is no requirement that I know of that requires a Scout, or Scouter, to salute the flag and recite the Pledge during flag ceremonies.

  11. Actually I wish more people, Scouters especially, would pledge to restore the Republic to one nation;indivisible;with liberty and justice for all. In my opinion our country is failing that goal miserably. (I left out “under God” because it was added as a ploy to thwart “godless Communism”)

  12. Quite honestly, shame on anyone who will require someone to take an oath that was created as the antithesis of the authoritarian oaths of dictatorships. You want everyone to be like you, and if they don’t act like you, you would have them thrown out or shamed. Not the spirit of scouting in the least, and not the spirit of Americans either.

  13. It’s brave for that young person to stand up for what he believes, A Scout is brave! And even if you disagree with his point of view and think he is not loyal, he can not and should not be loyal to something that he doesn’t think is worthy of loyalty. That Scout should not be banned from any role in his troop. Whether or not we agree with his actions, he sounds like a brave leader. Kids can respectfully stand up to adults and I hope this young man firmly holds his ground.

  14. Should scouts be required to say the pledge? Absolutely not, however, this exercise of freedom comes with consequences. Scouting is an organization in which a scout knowingly pledges an Oath and Law. In that Oath, is duty to God and country.

    If a scout opts out of the pledge, that scout cannot be seen as an exemplar of the values of scouting or as true to the Oath, and definitely should not hold positions of leadership. If that scout is encouraging others to follow the negative example, it is time for that scout to be dismissed to seek another organization whose values are more aligned with his or her own.

    That said, if a scout’s conscience makes respectfully refusing the pledge more important than advancing in the organization that he or she voluntarily joined, then that freedom should be allowed – but with the afore-mentioned consequences. Liberty has its price, as does independence and some levels of individuality.

    The scouts should NOT decide the course of action. That is the task of adult leadership. Set the standard. Establish the expectations. Define the limits. Allow for growth through guided experience.

    • But reciting the pledge us not a duty to country – if it were a duty, it would be obligatory, which it has been ruled it cannot be.

  15. Any scout who will not or cannot say the pledge should never earn the rank of scout. Remember, we CANNOT ADD or SUBTRACT any requirement and for SCOUT, REQ 1f. Repeat from memory the Pledge of Allegiance. In your own words, explain its meaning.

    • The requirement is that he repeat it from memory and explain it’s meaning. Once. It does not require that he recite it at the start of every meeting. Nothing in the article says that he refused to do it to pass his Scout requirement.

      What I would say that to that Scout is that EVERY country, EVERY religion, EVERY group of people espousing an ideal fails to meet it. It is inherent in the human condition. But while American has been inconsistent in meeting those ideals it at least sets those ideals as something to strive for, and it has consistently striven to meet them throughout it’s history, with ever-increasing success.

      • Exactly – he need not be *taking* the pledge to recite it from memory and explain its meaning. As long as he does that – he has fulfilled the requirement.

  16. We have Scouts from different countries in our troop. We allow them to pledge to their countries flag. If they don’t pledge to any flag—it is their right to not to. As a Scoutmaster, I ask why their decision and ask them for what they think their consequences should be. The troop then takes a vote on the consequences where it then goes into the by-laws

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