Atheist Student in Florida Gets Apology, Permission

to Boycott the Pledge


(Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center applauds the School District of Lee County in Fort Myers, Florida, for apologizing to an atheist student who was punished for remaining seated during the Pledge of Allegiance and giving written assurances that the student will be permitted to continue to exercise his right.


“We’re pleased to hear that this serious violation of a student’s rights has been addressed by the school district in a timely manner,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.


The school district responded to a letter sent on October 9 from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. According to the letter, the student, a senior at Cypress Lake High School, identifies as an atheist and objects to the Pledge for several reasons, most notably the “under God” language. When he attempted to sit quietly at his desk during the school’s daily Pledge recitation, his teacher verbally reprimanded him, accused him of being unpatriotic and then sent him to in-school suspension. The student reported the incident to school administrators, who told him to participate in the Pledge or face punishment. In response to the incident, the student reached out to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the American Humanist Association’s website.


“School administrators must uphold the rights of all students, including those students who object to ‘under god’ in the Pledge,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.


After the American Humanist Association became involved, the school promptly apologized to the student for the mistreatment. On Monday, in a letter to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the school district stated that the situation has been resolved and that the district has used the incident as an opportunity to inform school personnel of all students’ right to refrain from participating in the Pledge for any reason. The district has also instructed staff that students who exercise their right to opt out of the Pledge are not to be disciplined or reprimanded in any way.


A copy of the letter sent to the school district can be viewed here, and a copy of the school district’s response 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.