Public School Teacher Promotes Prayer, Punishes Atheist
Student for Sitting out Pledge of Allegiance
(Washington, D.C., Oct. 9, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to school officials at the San Jacinto Unified School District in San Jacinto, California, on behalf of the family of a student at Monte Vista Middle School. The letter concerns a seventh grade student who has been coerced by his teacher into standing for the Pledge of Allegiance when he attempted to exercise his right to remain seated during the Pledge. The letter also addresses a banner promoting prayer displayed in the student’s classroom.
According to the letter, both the teacher’s refusal to allow the student to opt out of the daily Pledge recitation and the presence of a banner promoting prayer are violations of the Establishment Clause. When the student, an atheist who objects to the phrase “under God,” attempted to sit quietly at his desk in an undisruptive manner during the Pledge exercise, his teacher berated him and erroneously informed him that the law required him to stand. The teacher then demanded that the student explain his reason for remaining seated, asking, “Do you hate America?” and making other statements meant to pressure him into standing. The students’ family reported the incident to the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the DontSaythePledge.com website, which encourages individuals to remain seated during recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance until the “under God” language is removed from it and it is restored to its original wording.
“No student should be reprimanded for exercising her or his rights,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The backlash that atheist students face for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance is proof of the divisive nature of its words.”
“Compelling students to stand for the Pledge against their will is an egregious violation of their fundamental First Amendment rights,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Instead of harassing students who sit out the Pledge, teachers should respect them for giving thoughtful consideration to the daily exercise.”
The letter demands that the teacher apologize to the student and his family. It also demands that all students and teachers in the district be advised that students may exercise their right to refrain from participating in the Pledge for any reason and that any written policies stating otherwise be retracted. Furthermore, the letter states that teachers must be informed that under no circumstances should they attempt to dissuade students from opting out of the Pledge or characterize such behavior as wrongful and that no disciplinary measures should be directed at students who sit out the Pledge.
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.