Student Punished for Not Saying ‘Under God’ in Pledge

Here’s yet another story of a public school student being punished by the school over the pledge of allegiance, but there’s a twist. He didn’t refuse to say it, he only refused to say “under God.” And he wasn’t part of a group saying it, he had to say it in front of the class.

Derek Giardina, 17, says he’s been given detention and docked points after omitting the reference to God, and the school district is standing by its decision.

Tracy Unified School District says it respects everyone’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but say if you’re going to lead the school in the pledge, you better say it in the traditional way.

Giardina says he went along with his speech and debate class assignment to lead West High Schoolin the pledge.

“Personally I wouldn’t say the pledge at all, because I’m not necessarily very patriotic, and I’m not religious,” he said.

Everyone in the class is required to do it 12 times a year. He read the 1954 version his first two times. But on his third he felt it necessary to remove the line “under god” from his reading, simply skipping over it and reciting the pledge as it was before the 1954 amendment during the Cold War…

District spokesman Sam Strube says while school leaders respect all students’ rights not to say the pledge, Giardina was disciplined because the reading was an assignment.

“A public forum where you’re going to represent the school is not a place where you can voice a controversial issue and force that on other people,” he said.

Strube says if students didn’t want to do the assignment, there was an alternative offered.

“Students are given that choice, and so if you’re representing the school and you’re reading the announcements to the class, you can be graded on how well you read the announcements,” he said.

I’d be curious to know what the alternative assignment was. That may be the key to whether there’s a real legal case here.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • eric

    “A public forum where you’re going to represent the school is not a place where you can voice a controversial issue and force that on other people,”

    Irony irony. You just voiced an argument for not having the pledge, because that’s using peer pressure to ‘force’ an opinion on people.

  • dingojack

    “Tracy Unified School District says it respects everyone’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but say if you’re going to lead the school in the pledge, you better say it in the traditional way”.

    As in the traditional pre-1954 way?

    @@

    Dingo

  • John Pieret

    eric beat me to it. That was exactly what I was going to say!

    What better place than a public forum is there for freedom of speech?

    The Constitution … just how the fuck does it work?!?!? Why can’t even high school administrators get the hang of it?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Somehow I’m having a problem grasping the logic behind “the ‘under god’ part is optional so it doesn’t cause a 1A problem but since you’re representing the State it is mandatory.”

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    The problem with teaching kids about Liberty is that some of them take it seriously.

  • John Pieret

    Damn it Modus! Stop summarizing everything in so few words! It makes the rest of us look like blowhards!

  • dingojack

    Nothing shouts ‘liberty’ as loud as a mandatory loyalty pledge.

    Dingo

  • hrafn

    I’d be curious to know what the alternative assignment was.

    I’ve heard that while with the pledge assignment you get the marks simply for doing it, with the alternative, it is graded (so therefore a chance of not getting the full marks). This disparity would appear to amount to a form of coercion.

  • abb3w

    This is a bit tricky; he was reading it as part of the official school announcements, making this an official exercise of speech on behalf of the school rather than private speech. On the other hand, reading the announcements is some manner of mandatory assignment for his speech and debate class — potentially problematic. On yet another hand, there was an alternative assignment available; however, that assignment (per account here) was “a speech requiring far more work” — which is again problematic.

    He probably should be reprimanded for this, but not disciplined; and given a better alternate assignment — such as reading the majority ruling (sans citations) from WV-SBoE v Barnette to his class, with teacher and principal in attendance. That’s a little more difficult than a short set of announcements, but not that much; and is educational for all involved.

  • eric

    @4: think of it as temporarily assigning to a student the typical role of a teacher. Now you are a representative of the state, so different limitations on your speech apply.

    I get that. It’s a compelling argument for not allowing a student to pray or thank God over the morning announcements, for example. :) It could also be a great “teachable moment,” if handled correctly: you’ve got a chance to let students experience the free speech limits imposed on teachers and other government officials, rather than just discuss them academically. That can be valuable.

    I think Ed’s right in this case, that the legal case will depend on whether the student was forced to take on this assignment or whether there was a real, practically available and similarly graded alternate assignment open them. If there was no real equivalant alternative available, I can see that as a problem. If there was, his choice to step into the role of government wonk as part of a class assignment is similar to a conservative Christian’s choice to become a pharmacist: you still gotta do the job, buddy, regardless of your personal beliefs.

  • Félix Desrochers-Guérin

    @2: If you’re going traditional, you might as well go for the pre-1942 version (the one with the Bellamy salute).

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Next time, he’ll leave out “with liberty and justice for all.”

  • abb3w

    Oh, I checked; the school has an email contact for the teacher, Shauna Baker, but her school personal web page is a “HTTP/1.1 200 OK” stub with no assignments. Google suggests she may have at one point been titled as the “English/Leadership Teacher” — which suggests a more social studies role than pure English.

  • https://www.facebook.com/adam.achen A Waterchapel

    The school admins, it seems, could do for an assigned reading from Catch-22.

  • Randomfactor

    “…with liberty and justice for al

    -most everybody.”

  • culuriel

    So, the school’s reasoning is that because he had the choice to not recite the pledge, he decided to recite the pledge on behalf of a state-owned school and therefore was required to include a statement that he believed in god? Do we lose our First Amendment rights when we’re doing schoolwork?

  • maddog1129

    Alert Sam Harris!

  • Alverant

    @eric

    I don’t think it’s like a pharmacist because children HAVE to be in school while adults have a choice as to where they work and what career they have. As others have pointed out, the alternate assignment was involved more work than reciting the Pledge thereby making the two unequal. It’s like in the military where your CO says “Well you can either go to church with me and pray to The Lord or you can stay here and scrub out all the toilets in the barracks.”

  • abb3w

    @16, culuriel

    So, the school’s reasoning is that because he had the choice to not recite the pledge, he decided to recite the pledge on behalf of a state-owned school and therefore was required to include a statement that he believed in god? Do we lose our First Amendment rights when we’re doing schoolwork?

    The school’s reasoning is likely that he had the choice to do an alternative assignment; that, having chosen this assignment over the alternative, he was required to conform to the role constraints of an official agent of the school system; that the role required him to read the current version of the Pledge of Allegiance, rather than the pre-1954 version. It’s not doing the schoolwork that constrains First Amendment rights, but the step of entering into the role of an agent of the government — just like a teacher’s rights to freedom of Speech and Religious Exercise are constrained by entering that role. (A teacher’s First Amendment rights similarly are not abrogated, even though a teacher reading the announcements can’t choose to recite the “Our Father” instead of the pledge, either.) The main weakness to the school’s argument isn’t in the constraint on the role of school announcer (which is a permissible constraint on someone who has chosen to become a government agent), but that the alternative assignment (required to avoid incurring the obligation to be so constrained) is substantively more onerous than this one.

    On the other hand, if the student is especially ornery, he might try using this as a basis for a federal lawsuit against the current wording of the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. Nohow, that seems a bad plan — if it managed to avoid being laughed out of court before then, I fear the the current SCOTUS might well rule to overturn Barnette.

  • culuriel

    Abby @19- But does someone accepting a duty as an agent of the state have to announce a belief in a deity he or she doesn’t believe in? I could be wrong, but isn’t that a clear violation of the 1st Amendment?

  • freehand

    Am I reading you folks correctly – do y’all think it’s OK for the school’s official stance to be that we are a nation under God? He’s in trouble for accepting the teacher’s role to claim that we are a godly nation. Huh. I don’t think the kids should have to hear that from any representative of the government, even a willing adult teacher.

    .

    Fellow students’ assertion? Sure, why not. But he should leave it out of this classwork assignment precisely because it’s the official school position. Even if he himself were a believer.

  • dingojack

    culuriel & freehand – but it’s just ceremonial deism – so it’s all perfectly hunky-dory, donchknow. @@

    Dingo

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R2XG9CnOj8 Olav

    That whole “Pledge”-thing should abolished and forgotten. It’s fascism, plain and simple. With or without mention of any deities, makes no difference.

  • abb3w

    @20, culuriel

    But does someone accepting a duty as an agent of the state have to announce a belief in a deity he or she doesn’t believe in? I could be wrong, but isn’t that a clear violation of the 1st Amendment?

    Bear in mind, I’m not a lawyer. (I’m also not “Abby” — that’s a different commenter.) That aside…

    Where the duty is mandatory, such as something associated with being drafted into the military — say, an oath including “So Help Me God”, it would seem clearly impermissible. For something where the office is a voluntary one (of profit or trust) it would be trickier. The RFRA probably would play a role at the federal level, but not the state, so it can probably be left aside.

    For the state, the nearest parallels I can think of would seem to be for local clerks or justices facing the duty of performing a marriage for a gay (or earlier, interracial) couple, and the Torasco v Watkins case where a religious oath was required for becoming a notary. My inclination is that this is closer to the former, as the latter the conflict is over something ancillary to the role; however, in gay marriage and this instance, the conflict is where the state is officially expressing something which is in conflict with the individual’s religious beliefs.

    It’s probably possible for a reasonable accommodation — say, making sure the wording includes distancing language to indicate it may not represent the belief of the speaker, such as prefixing “Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. Per 4 USC 4, the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance since 1954 remains ….” However, this kid apparently lacked the finesse to demand that or attempt such unilaterally. Nohow, that the offered accommodation was inequitable to inadequacy doesn’t completely excuse him.

    @21 freehand:

    Am I reading you folks correctly – do y’all think it’s OK for the school’s official stance to be that we are a nation under God?

    No; the present wording is dubious as a matter of constitutional law, and both wording and entire ritual seem terrible as a matter of politics. However, there are better responses to those problems which are more legally and politically appropriate (I don’t think omitting part of the wording falls within that ambit); and there’s not much interest in belaboring that obvious point yet again.