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?


  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.

  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.

  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?

    • 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’,

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