School Officials Enforce Dress Code by Requiring Students

to Stand for Pledge of Allegiance


(Washington, D.C., Oct. 21, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the Columbia County School System on behalf of a student at Grovetown High School in Grovetown, Georgia, who has been denied his constitutional right to refrain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance.


The ninth grade student objects to the phrase “under God” in the Pledge and attempted to remain seated at his desk in an undisruptive manner during the school’s daily Pledge recitation. However, his teacher threatened him with punishment if he did not stand, and school officials told him that the school policy requires all students to stand for the Pledge so that teachers can ensure that students are complying with the dress code. The letter refers to this policy as a pretext and states that faculty can observe students throughout the day, so enforcement of the dress code does not require students’ participation in the Pledge exercise. The student reported the incident to the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the website, which provides resources to individuals opting out of the Pledge because they object to the “under God” language in it, added during the McCarthy era.


“Students have a guaranteed right to refrain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance,” 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. “The idea that dress code enforcement must require a student to participate in an exercise with which he disagrees is both disingenuous and outlandish. This is textbook coercion.”


The letter demands that students and teachers in the Columbia County School System be informed that students may remain seated during the Pledge for any reason. The letter also demands that teachers be advised not to attempt to persuade students from opting out of the Pledge for any reason and should not tell students that standing for the Pledge is a requirement for dress code enforcement. Furthermore, the letter demands that no disciplinary measures be directed at students who exercise their right to refrain from participating in the Pledge exercise.


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.