Florida Teacher Physically Forced Jehovah’s Witness Fourth-Grader to Take Part in the Pledge of Allegiance

Recently, one morning, in a public school in Spring Hill, Florida… this happened. To a fourth-grader.

As the students recited [the Pledge of Allegiance], teacher Anne Daigle-McDonald took the boy’s wrist and placed his hand over his heart. He protested, pulling his arm down and reminding her he was a Jehovah’s Witness.

“You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag,” Daigle-McDonald said, according to a statement the boy gave to a school administrator.

The next day, Daigle-McDonald again placed the boy’s hand over his heart. She then addressed the class. “In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can’t do the pledge,” several students told a school administrator, according to a report. “If you can’t put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country.”

Though she disputes some of these details, a school investigation found she’d acted wrongly. According to the district, Daigle-McDonald broke state education rules, violated principles of professional conduct, and trampled the student’s right to free speech and freedom of religion.

She was suspended for five days.

Though this story just came out, the teacher’s insistence that all students say the Pledge happened on the most recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She reiterated her position to the children the next day, too:

“[I] just wanted all of the students to respect the day,” she said.

But respecting the memory of the 3,000 people who died on September 11, 2001, can and may certainly be done without invoking God — and without the casual, unconstitutional totalitarianism of coercing children to say any part of the Pledge. In fact, considering that religious mania led directly to the slaughter of that horrible day, it might be more respectful to commemorate it without conflating God and patriotism.

I recently wrote about the Pledge — and why it shouldn’t be said in schools at all — here.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.