Teen Kicked Out of Class for Not Standing During Pledge

Devon Smith (below), a sophomore at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas, didn’t recite or stand for the Pledge of Allegiance on Monday morning.

devonsmith.jpg

This is perfectly acceptable. A lot of atheists don’t say/stand for the Pledge because of its reference to America being a nation “under God.”

Devon’s teacher, Susan Rheinwald, didn’t see it that way. She kicked him out of class.

Here are some excerpts from the article by Paul Harasim:

“I wasn’t being disruptive,” [Smith] said Monday afternoon while sitting with his mother on the couch in their Spring Valley home. “I don’t believe we are ‘one nation under God’ as the Pledge says. I don’t believe in God. So I was just sitting there. That is my right.”

“After I told her (Rheinwald) that I don’t recite the pledge, she said I didn’t have to say it but that I had to stand while others did,” Smith said. “When I told her ‘I don’t do that,’ she told me to get my stuff and go to the dean’s office.”

Though Smith was told to go to the dean’s office by Rheinwald, he phoned his mother, Donna Pearson, who told him to come home.

Like her son, Pearson does not believe in God. She is a member of the Wiccan faith, though her son says he is not.

After he has declined to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in other classrooms, some irritated teachers suggest that “they wish I had to go fight in Iraq,” Smith said.

The principal is saying there was more to it than simply refusal to participate, though he’s not elaborating:

Though Rheinwald was unavailable for comment, Spring Valley Principal Bob Gerye said Smith was not booted from class because he wouldn’t recite the pledge. “A student has that constitutional right,” Gerye said.

“There’s more to it,” he said, declining to say what prompted the discipline. He did not say Smith was disruptive.

Gerye said he did not know whether Rheinwald told Smith to leave because he refused to stand during the pledge.

“I’ll have to look into that,” he said.

Further attempts to reach Gerye late Monday were unsuccessful.

Smith had been in trouble in the past for disciplinary reasons (he was expelled from his previous school). He states that he’s learned his lesson and none of those disciplinary issues were cited as a reason he was kicked out of class.

You can get more information on Smith’s story here.

Karen at Rant & Reason says that there’s a larger problem at hand, though:

… it seems that teachers in Clark County, where Smith attends school, are trained to require students to stand for the pledge. Debbie Tomasetti, a coordinator for new teacher induction, said that she interprets school district regulations — which state that students with conscientious objections “shall maintain a respectful attitude through the ceremony” — to mean that students must stand for the pledge.

This article, also by Harasim, confirms that:

Debbie Tomasetti, the coordinator, said Tuesday that her interpretation of school district regulations requires students to stand respectfully during the Pledge of Allegiance, even though they may have conscientious objections to the observance.

New teachers are told, she said, that students, regardless of their beliefs, are supposed to “stand and show their respect” during the pledge.

The training practice described by Tomasetti drew heavy criticism from American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada executive director Gary Peck.

“They are misinforming new teachers,” said Peck. “It’s no wonder we have so many complaints and have to intervene with so many students.”

Bill Hoffman, the district’s general counsel, said “there may be some confusion” in the district about a student’s constitutional rights.

“There is no obligation to stand,” he said. “We’re going to have to improve and reinvigorate our training.”

Maybe the school officials can learn a lesson from Devon. He obviously knows the law better than they do.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Michael Newdow[/tags]

  • Darryl

    Give ‘em hell, Devon!

  • Grimalkin

    This happened to me when I was in High School. I had just immigrated from Europe and I felt absolutely no allegiance towards the United States. My mom moved for a job and that was that. I wasn’t about to stand up and pledge fidelity or patriotism (aside from the fact that my home country is still the only country I feel any sort of patriotism for, we Europeans still remember the days of Hitler far too well to be comfortable with this sort of mandatory pledge of allegiance).

    On my first day, when everyone else stood and began reciting the pledge, I remained seated. I thought I was being respectful (as far as I am concerned, someone feigning a sentiment like that is an insult). I was just sitting out of something I did not feel it was my right (or desire) to participate in.

    My teacher stopped right in the middle of the pledge and said my name, asking me why I wasn’t standing. It was my very first day in a brand new school and in a brand new country – I was mortified. When I tried to explain that I don’t feel comfortable pledging allegiance to a country I hadn’t been in for more than 2-3 days, my teacher told me that I could either stand “out of respect” or go to the principal’s office. The absolute last thing a new girl like me wanted was to be labelled from day one as “argumentative” or “difficult” so I stood. I continued to stand until graduating and promptly leaving the US.

    I did not place my hand over my heart and I never said the pledge. Looking back on it, I feel wronged that I was even made to stand – especially that I was coerced into standing by threats on my very first day. I truly wish that I had had the courage to continue sitting like Devon.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    To me, this isn’t even a matter of religion. The “under God” line is far less offensive than students being forced into loyalty oaths.

    I do no Pledge Allegiance to the Flag, or the Republic for which it stands. I pledge my allegiance to my fellow countrymen, whom the republic serves. It is not one nation, but a hodge-podge of many nations and cultures held together by a love of Freedom- that collection is only indivisible so long as there is liberty and justice for all.

    I’d much rather have the students trained to say, “Fuck the Government”, or less colorfully, “Government derives its power from the consent of the Governed. I do not submit to my Government, my Government serves me.”

  • Arlen

    Clearly things are messed up if this kid is being punished only for not standing during the pledge. I’m glad that the district seems to have sorted the issue out and is training teachers correctly now. That said, it seems like the kid may have behavior issues, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he was not standing and being a twit, in which case discipline may be called for. Let’s not condemn the school or the teacher right away.

  • Daniel

    I’m pretty sure there is more to this story than this one event. I’m not in favor of labeling this kid a hero because he happens to be on the right side this one time. Given his history and that haircut, I bet this episode was probably just the last straw for the teacher.

  • Andrew

    I’m pretty sure there is more to this story than this one event. I’m not in favor of labeling this kid a hero because he happens to be on the right side this one time. Given his history and that haircut, I bet this episode was probably just the last straw for the teacher.

    I imagine you are right. Though we are not qualified to judge accurately, someone who has done enough to get expelled was probably being at least passive-aggresive. And if that is the case, the teacher was probably well within her rights to rid her classroom of his disruption. Which I find hard to imagine happened for the reasons or how he said it did.

  • Jen

    Yeah, Daniel, goddamn kid won’t cut his hair, and he has a history of not fitting into the fairly narrow confines of public education! Let’s punish him!

    I have a friend who teaches in a low-income school district. She has told me many things that make me regret how I treated kids who weren’t as awesome as me when I was younger. A lot of kids have trouble in school because of being poor- having to work a job to support their family, or going without medical care (say, untreated ADD), or not being able to study at home, or moving three times in one school year, or getting pregnant at 13. There are also plenty of problems for kids with money who simply aren’t able to fit into the school mold, and overworked/underpaid teachers who simply don’t have the time or the resources to help that kid succeed.

    I am willing to bet at least some of these things are playing into this story.

  • Maria

    To me, this isn’t even a matter of religion. The “under God” line is far less offensive than students being forced into loyalty oaths.

    I agree. That’s how I feel too.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Given his history and that haircut

    hahahaha Thanks, Grandpa!

  • http://bligbi.com KC

    I’m with a few of the others, the “under god” part is far less offensive now that reciting a loyalty oath is mandatory and dissenters must be “respectful” of an act that’s a fundamental assault on freedom of conscious.

  • Patti

    Maybe we should question the whole concept of factory farming children to begin with….

  • stogoe

    Yeah, Daniel, goddamn kid won’t cut his hair, and he has a history of not fitting into the fairly narrow confines of public education! Let’s punish him!

    That actually seems like a fairly standard haircut for today’s teens. It’s not Grandpa Daniel’s Military Grade Notch-3 Flat Top, but then again, nothing is these days.

    It seems more like the teacher freaked out about not having complete and utter domination of the little vermin. After all, her job is just to keep them contained and controlled, because it’s not like they’ll actually learn anything anyway.

  • Karen

    In the 1930s and 1940s the Jehovah’s Witnesses went to the Supreme Court challenging mandatory pledge of allegiance laws and eventually won in 1943. This is old, old hat but apparently some school districts haven’t caught up. It reminds me of how individual teachers decide they can proselytize in history class or introduce creationism in science classrooms.

    Given his history and that haircut, I bet this episode was probably just the last straw for the teacher.

    Oh my. I thought complaints about long hair on boys went out with my parents’ generation! That’s how 90% of the boys in my area look, for what it’s worth. It doesn’t matter if he’s a troublemaker anyway – he has a right to respectfully opt out of the pledge and not be kicked out of class for doing so.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    Personally these kinds of stories seem to cause everyone’s skepticism to disappear especially when it’s something we all agree with. Is the Pledge of Allegiance absurd, absolutely. And I also agree that the “Under God” part is the least offensive part of the whole thing. But seriously, being expelled from a school (especially a public school) would require a MAJOR “behavorial problem”. Think about it.

    @the Hair cut comment
    I’m sure Daniel’s comments about the long hair was a joke that apparently some of you didn’t get. Apparently we must check our humor at the door when it’s directed at someone we agree with. For the record Daniel I agree with your comment and I thought the haircut joke was funny, although a smiley would have helped some of the other commenters.

    @Patti
    But factory-farmed children taste the best.

    @Grimalkin
    I’m very sorry you had to go through that.

  • Andrew

    It seems more like the teacher freaked out about not having complete and utter domination of the little vermin.

    Highly doubtful… Kids his age don’t make brave/noble gestures AND get kicked out of schools “for other reasons”… It’s one or other. Like with Matt LaClair. I mean, look at this kid. You all know how kids like him get treated, and how they react…

  • Daniel

    Heh, yeah, the haircut phrase was just a joke. It’s weird the things people pick up on (or rather, don’t pick up on) and then use against you. Now apparently I’m an out of touch grandpa that wants to punish people for not conforming. The internet is fucking strange. This is the FRIENDLY atheist site, people. Calm yourselves.

    Back to the topic. It appears that there is wrong on both sides here. The pledge/’under god’ issue is much broader than the case of this one kid. But if as a movement atheists aren’t careful who they rally behind, they could end up looking like complete douchebags. Based on the tiny amount of information in the post above, I don’t think that this kid is the moral exemplar you’re looking for.

  • John Payan

    OK, so I don’t like his hair and he has been expelled from another school.
    The point is – I repeat- the point is I don’t pay taxes to bring divisive themes such as “Gods” (any of them) to school. My support for Devon Smith.

  • Karen

    I don’t think that this kid is the moral exemplar you’re looking for.

    Who is looking for a moral exemplar? We’re only defending his long-established right not to participate in the pledge. How hard is that to understand?

  • http://www.atheismsucks.blogspot.com/ IrishFarmer

    Hm. I am a Christian, but during my…either sophomore or junior year in high school…I objected to standing up for the pledge by remaining seated and not uttering a single word of it. Of course, it had nothing to do with the phrase “Under God”, it was (so I said) because I objected to compulsory recitation of the pledge. Now, with hindsight, I can also admit that it was because I wanted to ruffle a few feathers, because that’s the kind of person I am.

    So, with that perspective, I sincerely doubt that this kid did what he did simply out of principle. However, his motivation is irrelevant to whether what he did was right or wrong. That said, I don’t think the classroom is necessarily the place to make a statement, simply because of other factors involved in the situation. For instance, if only out of respect for the authority structure of the classroom, the student should respect the wishes of the teacher (stand, and even perhaps recite the pledge while not repeating the phrase, “Under God”), and then object in private to a higher authority.

    On legal grounds, the kid can stay sitting if he wants. I just think that out of a sense of respect, he should have done things differently. Regardless, I’m highly skeptical of the claim that “there’s more to this” situation. Despite that I was legally allowed to refrain from reciting the pledge, I was still told to write the pledge of allegiance ten times as a punishment, despite that there was nothing more to what I did.

    Interesting story, and I think both parties involved are, to some extent at least, wrong (law aside).

  • Allison

    That said, I don’t think the classroom is necessarily the place to make a statement, simply because of other factors involved in the situation. For instance, if only out of respect for the authority structure of the classroom, the student should respect the wishes of the teacher (stand, and even perhaps recite the pledge while not repeating the phrase, “Under God”), and then object in private to a higher authority.

    Although the standing is supposedly not compulsory, it pretty clearly seems to have been district-enforced and the time spent to recite the pledge is often state-enforced, so going a step up would normally get you, well, nowhere.

    I’m sure that part of his intent was to irk. However, I did LOTS of things intended to irk as a teen where I knew that I was within my rights to do so, a few of those times even to make a point beyond just being obnoxious.

    Kids who are not moral exemplars need their rights protected as much as squeaky-clean ones do.

  • Jen

    I was mostly kidding about the hair, too. My sister is in high school, and they all have that haircut. I think it’s dumb… maybe I am getting up there in years too!

    Mostly I just wanted to point out that I think there could be other things at play here. He might have ADD, and he kind of looks like a skateboarder to me, so I wonder if that is part of the reason the teacher hates him.

    Basically, this is a live-action version of Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, a novel for teens about a kind of obnoxious kid who acts up during the pledge one day and sets a series of events in motion that eventually lead to him having to change schools, and the teacher being fired. Good book.

  • jjj

    i hope you know you can recite the pledge without saying one nation under god its your right but. this country should be under god look around…

  • Martin Van der Meer

    Standing during the pledge is no more than being silent during a speech.  It’s called respect for others.  Something this kid obviously does not have.  He is under no obligation to say it, although if he is a true American, he could leave out the “under God” portion.   The school should have handled it differently by explaining that it is just respect; he doesn’t have to recite it if he doesn’t believe it.  However, if he doesn’t believe ANY of it, I’ll be happy to buy him a one-way ticket to Guatemala when he graduates.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Prophet/505042539 John Prophet

      Will you stand respectfully while I recite the Pledge of Fealty to the great dark lord Satan? You are under no obligation to say it with me, but you ARE obligated to stand respectfully. It’s called respect for others. You are under no obligation to say it, but if you are a true american you could leave out “hail Satan” at the end. I won’t be buying you any plane tickets. Buy your own. You can apparently afford it. I hear Iran is a very strong religious state. Maybe you’d be happier practicing your beliefs there?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X