Students Punished for Sitting Out the Pledge of Allegiance Seek Protection from Humanist Group


(Washington, DC, Sept. 17, 2015)—Since the beginning of the school year, the American Humanist Association has been inundated with emails and calls from students across the country, who have been mistreated by their public schools for exercising their constitutional right to remain seated during the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.


Many of these students contact the American Humanist Association through its campaign website,, which  informs students of their right to opt out of the Pledge and also educates them about the history of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge, only added as recently as 1954 during the McCarthy Era. One such student, a senior at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, California, in the Long Beach Uniformed School District, was threatened with punishment after she exercised her right to opt out of the Pledge. When the student’s father contacted the school’s assistant principal to resolve the issue, his concerns were not adequately addressed by the high school administration, which seemed to have no idea that the student’s rights had been violated. The student’s father then contacted the American Humanist Association, which sent a letter to the school district through its Appignani Humanist Legal Center.


The legal center also sent a letter to officials at New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District in Wilmington, Delaware, on behalf of a twelfth grade student at Delcastle Technical High School whose teacher held him after class for sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher threatened the student with punishment if he remained seated in the future and humiliated him in the hallway in front of his classmates by referring to his behavior as “disrespectful.”


“The Supreme Court clearly granted public school students the right to not participate in the Pledge, but we’re contacted on a daily basis by students whose schools still fail to understand that opting out of the Pledge is part of students’ basic right to freedom of speech and conscience,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, in reference to the 1943 West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette case.


“Students may object to reciting the Pledge for personal, political or religious reasons,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Many atheist and humanist students are boycotting the ‘under God’ language of the Pledge, which is a divisive form of religious endorsement by the state that marginalizes nontheists as second-class citizens.”


The letters demand that both school districts inform teachers and students that students may remain seated during the Pledge exercise and that teachers be instructed to permit students to opt out of the Pledge without school officials questioning them, persuading them otherwise, or characterizing their decision as wrongful in any way. The letters also demand that no disciplinary action be directed toward any students who do not participate in reciting the Pledge.


The letter sent to the Long Beach Uniformed School District in Long Beach, California, can be viewed here, and the letter sent to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District in Wilmington, Delaware, can be viewed here.




Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105,

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120,

David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119,



Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.