DENVER (AP) – A federal judge Friday blocked a Colorado law requiring public school students and teachers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, calling the law discriminatory and divisive.

In issuing a temporary injunction, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock said the law discriminates against teachers by allowing students to opt out with a note from their parents. Teachers cannot opt out.

The judge also said the law pits students who choose to say the pledge against those who do not, and students against teachers.

“What is instructional about that?” Babcock asked. “You can’t compel a citizen of the United States to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Babcock said failing to recite the pledge conceivably could lead to suspensions for students and firings for teachers, although supporters of the law said there were no penalties.

The injunction will be in effect until a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing on the challenge. Until then the pledge can still be recited, but people can’t be required to say it.

State Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, called the ruling “a gross insult to the patriotism of most Coloradans.”

“It’s bad jurisprudence. I’m confident it will be overturned on appeal,” Andrews said.

The pledge has been part of the morning routine in many Colorado schools but it was not required until the law took effect Aug. 6. It was challenged less than a week later by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of nine teachers and students from four Denver-area districts.

ACLU attorney Allen Chen told the judge the law posed irreparable harm to the First Amendment rights of students and teachers.

“This is nothing less than ritualistic recitation of words that have much meaning to some people and no meaning to other people,” he said.

State officials say anyone can choose not to say the pledge under certain circumstances.

Colorado is one of 33 states that require schools to include recitation of the pledge during the school day, according to the Education Commission of the States. Specific rules vary.

Last month, a federal court ruled a Pennsylvania law requiring all students to recite the pledge or sing the national anthem violated students’ freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce this fall whether it will consider another federal court ruling in San Francisco that said regular classroom recitations of the pledge are unconstitutional because of the phrase “one nation, under God.”

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