After the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Elmira school district in New York because a teacher berated a student for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, the superintendent of that school district took swift action and told all teachers that students have a constitutional right not to do so.
The statement read, in part: “As a general matter, the District is very well aware of each student’s right under United States Supreme Court and Second Circuit Court of Appeals precedent to decline participation in the Pledge. The District also welcomes community dialogue on freedom of speech, civic engagement, and the right to be free from political compulsion. ”
For this report, Austin shared an email she sent to district staff Wednesday morning outlining key points surrounding a student’s right to decline participation in the Pledge of Allegiance…
The district’s email to staff outlined the following points:
• Students cannot be compelled to salute the flag, recite the pledge, or even stand in silence.
• Students cannot be excluded from the room during the pledge.
• Students must be permitted to sit quietly during the pledge.
• Students who decline to participate are not, however, permitted to act disruptively during the pledge, such as by making motions, gestures, or noises.
• Similarly, other students may not disrupt the pledge by making motions, gestures, or noises to draw attention to or criticize the students who have opted out.
• Whether during the pledge or at other times, other students may not retaliate against the students opting out through threats, intimidation, or any other behaviors that would violate the Code of Conduct.
• District employees may not retaliate against students who opt out and should appropriately take and refer complaints from students regarding any inappropriate behaviors without taking sides in the debate, as we would on any topic about which people might feel passionately.
• All students may have opinions on the matter and may express those opinions in appropriate settings and at appropriate times (that is, not during instructional time dedicated to other subjects).
Kudos to the school district for instructing their teachers on the law. But this needs to be done nationwide. There needs to be a mandatory continuing education course for teachers that covers the full range of church/state controversies and what the law requires and forbids teachers and administrators to do.