CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Eighty-one years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools cannot compel students to salute the flag, ACLU-WV has put education officials on notice that they could be violating the ruling. A review of every high school and several middle schools in West Virginia has found at least six schools that unconstitutionally require students to remove hats, stand for flag-raising ceremonies, and other forms of compelled expressive speech.

During the height of nationalism that swept the country during WWII, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a lawsuit against the state Board of Education for the expulsion of two sisters who refused to salute the flag in accordance with their Jehovah’s Witness faith. The expulsions exposed the children to delinquency hearings and their parents to criminal prosecution. On June 14, 1943, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that forcing students to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

A review of schools this week found that student policy handbooks at Calhoun Middle/High School (page 34), Riverside High School (page 29) in Kanawha County, Summers County Comprehensive High School (page 8), Richwood High School (page 30) in Nicholas County, Sissonville Middle (page 8) in Kanawha County, and John Adams Middle School (page 19) have flag policies that could violate students’ constitutional rights. To mark the anniversary of the ruling, ACLU-WV has sent a letter to school officials to educate them about compliance.

“Not only has this question been settled, it was settled right here in Kanawha County eight decades ago,” ACLU-WV Legal Director Aubrey Sparks said. “Any school that is requiring students to salute or pledge allegiance to the flag is doing so in violation of 81 years of legal precedent.”

The letter, prepared by the ACLU-WV legal department with assistance from legal fellows Patrick Hassen (West Virginia University College of Law) and London Henderson (American University Washington College of Law) was sent to administrators at the schools named above.

“The Constitution affords protection for Americans to freely express our beliefs and ideas. That protection expands beyond written and spoken word; it extends to symbolic speech as well. People can express themselves through drawing, music, dance, or hairstyles among many others. One powerful way that people can express themselves is by choosing to remain silent when everyone else is agreeing, or remaining sitting when everyone else stands. Barnette codified that right. Students still have that right in schools today. Students cannot be compelled to recite, stand, or salute for the flag or the pledge of allegiance,” the letter states.

Sparks added that many schools have “outstanding” policies regarding students’ free speech rights, and that the vast majority of schools appear to be complying with the ruling.

Any public school student that is forced to recite the Pledge against their beliefs is encouraged to contact the ACLU-WV legal team at or by calling 304-345-9246.