High Schooler Objects to ‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance, Threatened with Punishment
(Washington, D.C., Sept. 29, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter on behalf of a ninth grade student to school officials at the Oak Park Unified School District in Oak Park, CA. The letter concerns a violation of the student’s constitutional right to refrain from participating in the school’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The letter states that the student, an atheist attending Oak Park High School, opted to sit quietly at his desk during the Pledge exercise because he objects to the phrase “under God” and feels that any level of participation in the Pledge validates this religious language. However, the student’s teacher loudly accused him of being “disrespectful” and intimidated him with threats of punishment. Since this incident, the student has felt pressured to stand for the Pledge, despite his sincerely held beliefs against the exercise. The student contacted the American Humanist Association’s Appignnani Humanist Legal Center through the organization’s campaign website, DontSaythePledge.com, which encourages individuals who object to religious language in the Pledge to refrain from participating in it.
“Public school students have the right to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, referring to the 1943 United States Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “Compelling a student to do otherwise is a violation of the fundamental freedoms of speech and consciousness guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
“The threats of punishment that atheist students receive for choosing not to recite the Pledge demonstrate the divisive nature of our current Pledge’s wording,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We need to return the Pledge of Allegiance to its original, unify form that does not include the phrase ‘under God.’”
The letter demands that all students and teachers at the school be informed that students have the right to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance for any reasons and that teachers are not to attempt to persuade students who exercise their right to opt out of the Pledge to do otherwise. The letter also demands that assurances be made that no student who refrains from participating in the Pledge will face punishment or other retaliatory measures.
A copy of the letter can be viewed here.
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, email@example.com
David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.