A student in Texas was punished for refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance recently and now a student in New York has faced a similar situation. The American Humanist Association’s Apginini Humanist Legal Center has sent a letter to the school demanding a change in policy.
Today the American Humanist Association submitted a letter to the Elmira City School District in New York, on behalf of an atheist student who objects to the Phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The anonymous student stated that, when she attempted to simply sit during the Pledge, her high school teacher instructed her to stand. She was also told by the teacher in front of her classmates that not standing for the Pledge “is disrespectful to America and to military personnel.”
“Forcing students to participate in the Pledge against their will is an infringement on their constitutional rights,” said American Humanist Association executive director, Roy Speckhardt. “By singling out students who do not wish to participate, the school is discriminating against children who are good without a god.”
“Federal courts have consistently upheld the right of students to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance as a matter of free speech and freedom of conscience,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Since the Pledge exercise defines patriotism in terms of God-belief, it’s perfectly understandable that many good, patriotic atheist children and families would want to exercise their right to opt out.”
The American Humanist Association demands that teachers allow students to opt out of the daily Pledge exercise, cease to persuade students to participate, and not punish or reprimand students who choose to remain seated.
Seriously, it’s time that we started mandating that all teachers and school administrators take a course and have reference materials available on what the law says on these very common situations. We see far too many instances where a student or administrator violates a student’s rights in this manner, either because they’re ignorant or just don’t care what the law says (or both, in some cases). It’s time we made sure that everyone in a position of authority in schools knows the law and the limits of their authority. We could do it as part of their continuing education requirements and, once they’ve taken the course, we should hold them accountable for it.
You can read their full letter here.