Atheist Student Objects to ‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance, Told She is Disrespectful to U.S. Military


(Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the Ferndale Area School District in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on behalf of an atheist student who is not being allowed to remain seated during the school’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.


According to the letter, the tenth grade student, who objects to the “under God” language in the Pledge, has attempted to quietly sit at her desk during the flag-salute exercise. In response, her teacher has instructed her to stand for the exercise, under threat of discipline pursuant to a school policy that was recently changed to require students to stand. The student was also told that failing to stand is disrespectful to members of the U.S. military. Other students at the school have also reportedly been told to stand for the Pledge against their will. The student reported these constitutional violations to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the American Humanist Association’s website, which encourages individuals to boycott the Pledge until the phrase “under God” is removed from it.


“The right of public school students to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance is well-settled,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in reference to the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “Coercing students to stand is a violation of their fundamental constitutional freedom of speech.”


“The phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance marginalizes atheist students as second-class citizens,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “No student should be threatened with discipline merely for exercising her or his right to boycott a broken Pledge.”


The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge in 1954, during the Cold War.


The letter demands that students and teachers in the district be informed that students have the right to opt out of the Pledge exercise for any reason and that any written school policies stating otherwise be retracted. The letter also demands that teachers be instructed that they are not to persuade students to participate in the Pledge or characterize nonparticipation as misconduct and that no disciplinary measures are to be directed at students who remain seated for the Pledge.


A copy of the letter 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.