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 and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • God’s Starship

    The pledge totally isn’t worth this. It’s time to put this outdated loyalty oath to bed. There are better ways to support America, maybe by starting with actually doing something.

    • R Bonwell parker

      It’s a purposeful distraction… a wedge issue to get people riled up so they don’t pay attention to the real problems that are being neglected. Low hanging fruit, if you will.

      • Leiningen’s Ants

        Much like flag burning, again.

        I hate revisiting old shit.

    • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

      I hated reciting that indoctrination mantra every day. I never do anymore, even though it pisses off a lot of my fellow vets. Like those close minded assholes at the American Legion that keep popping up in the news.

      • Nate Frein

        I was one of those authoritarian asshole ROTC-Nazis that was all about the pledge.

        If I could go back in time, I’d smack myself.

      • smrnda

        I looked up the word ‘allegiance’ and decided that I wouldn’t pledge allegiance to a scrap of cloth OR to a Republic in and of itself (why pledge loyalty to the republic instead of liberty and justice?) Overall, this earned me the right to sit down, though since then I’ve always wondered why people so want kids to say things they don’t understand. It’s especially true with religion, with 4 year olds committing their lives to some god.

  • El Bastardo
  • invivoMark

    “[R]espect the day?” These are fourth graders! They weren’t even alive in 2001, for crying out loud!

    There isn’t much to respect about the day. 9/11/01 was a tragic day for a lot of people, but that’s true of literally any day. This is a tragic world. No one should be forced to allocate their respect for tragedy in a specific way, especially when repeating numerical dates are arbitrary anyway.

    Students should be taught to respect others (those who are still alive!) when they want to commemorate an event. That is important. Not whatever this teacher wanted to teach.

    • David Kopp

      Students? The teacher needs to learn that lesson before they can teach it.

  • C Peterson

    There are offenses that deserve a reprimand. There are offenses that deserve firing. This is the latter. And since it involved the laying on of hands, perhaps even criminal charges.

    If I used physical force against a student at my school, I’d be lucky indeed if I just got fired, and not arrested.

    • flyb

      I thought the same thing. Only five days suspension for forcibly grabbing a young student’s arm and pressing it against his/her chest? Thirty years ago, that kind of behavior by a teacher might have been fairly common, but not today. That’s a termination now.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

      If a teacher uses physical force against a child, does the child have the right to respond with similar physical force in defense?

      • ShhhImReading

        I don’t know, but were I the child in question, I would have slapped my teacher, then again with the back of my hand. My RING hand. I was the kind of child who would have done that.

        • Feral Dog

          I bit people.

          • pirate_froglet

            Seems appropriate, given the name…

          • Stephanie Austin

            Are you for hire? :-)

        • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

          Since the kid is a Jehovah’s Witness, he should put out a call to all Kingdom Halls within a hundred miles. They could overwhelm the teacher with house calls and Watchtower literature.

          • Gus

            Truly a fate worse than death.

    • tubi11

      If a teacher used physical force against my children (1st and 3rd grade) they teacher would certainly be facing whatever action I could bring against them , irrespective of what the school chooses to do. And if the school didn’t do enough, they be on the list as well.

      Fortunately, everyone I’ve encountered at our school has been the exact opposite of this lady. Maybe it’s because we live in Minnesota and everyone’s so NICE!

    • Susan Ruffaner Gahagan

      I agree. She should be fired. This is not something to be taken lightly. Minimally, this was bullying. But it really goes much, much deeper than that. It is truly a violation of the student’s constitutional rights.

      If prayer were still permitted in public schools, we’d be hearing stories like this every day about Christian teachers forcing all students to “respect god.”

    • Gus

      Meanwhile, the administration should also review their training policies. Teachers ought to have been clearly instructed that the Pledge is optional (that legal standing is not exactly new) and that no consequences of any kind should come to any child who chooses to abstain. They should also clearly be trained not to physically touch a student except to put a stop to acts that present a danger to themselves or others. The teacher should have known what she was doing was wrong and a firing offense. Obviously she didn’t. Her ignorance is no excuse, but it does mean the administration needs to make some changes beyond firing her.

      • C Peterson

        Good luck with that. The response of the administration suggests they see this more as a PR problem than anything else.

        • AtariBaby

          Well that’s typically how a school board sees everything, unfortunately.

          • C Peterson

            This shouldn’t even be a matter for the school board. It’s administrative- in this case, and administrative failure.

  • Octoberfurst

    Yep nothing like forced patriotism to make a person love his/her country. Even though I said the Pledge as a kid I always disliked the whole coerciveness of it. (If you didn’t do it you were considered anti-American.) A right-wing coworker of mine once said–regarding a story about a local Jehovah Witness who got into trouble for refusing to say the Pledge during a PTA meeting–that anyone who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance should be kicked out of the country. I was shocked but she was dead serious. Personally I think it is an outdated practice that should have been gotten rid of long ago.

    • Feral Dog

      Thing is, it was originally intended as the final part of the naturalization process for immigrants. They’d get their citizenship, have a little ceremony, and say the pledge, so there was no question that they were good citizens just like everyone else despite not being born here. It was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime promise, and was foisted into schools and other places later.

      • CottonBlimp

        Interestingly, it was foisted onto schools by a radical socialist wanting to increase American loyalty to the federal government over their individual state.

        Seems like it worked.

        • Feral Dog

          And it’s bizarre to note that today’s rabid enforcement of Pledging is by decidedly non-liberal bunch of people. The world is a very strange place.

  • http://empiricalpierce.wordpress.com/ EmpiricalPierce

    All too often, patriotism is loyalty to real estate over principles.

  • Wrich

    I love the Pledge. I love the US. I love them both so much, I don’t think anyone else should be forced to say the Pledge (which I say “Under Cow” instead of Under God) or Love the US.

    Living here does not mean you have to love it here. That is Stalin Bullshit…as Americans, we have the right to love and hate what ever we damn well please, including our own country.

    Now…I would prefer you have an intelligent argument for doing so (love or hate) if we are going to discuss it, and if we are going to have a law about it, you better have a very good reason on why we need that law.

    This teacher will feast of none of the goats of Thor this evening, and Valhalla is not for the likes of her. Off to teach kids about “The Cosmic Cow!”. When you go full fantasy land absurdity…go Norse!

    • smrnda

      Awesome remark. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your country is to hate some aspect of it and want it to change.

    • CottonBlimp

      I just want to add to this that I think for most of us who don’t want to say the pledge, it’s not because we don’t like the USA, we just don’t think a mandatory obedience pledge with a built-in prayer is something that represents America’s better ideals.

  • Mick

    “If you can’t put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country.”

    The teacher should Google “Bellamy Salute” and discover how her grandparents saluted the flag.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

      I suppose that’s an interesting detail, but I think it misses the point. Had she lived when a different salute was common, she’d probably have been physically forcing the child to mimic it instead.

      She has ignorantly associated a pose with a state of mind. While there is correlation between the hand-over-heart pose and respect, neither depends on the other. Certainly anyone lacking respect for something won’t suddenly gain it by posing a particular way, or being forced to do so. It’s superficial silliness.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        The idea of showing someone the Bellamy Salute is about shocking the person into realizing how negative the salute and Pledge actually are with a graphic analogy. It would have no chance on someone who thought the Bellamy style was normal, but the association of the gesture with fascism is strong for us now.

        • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

          I missed that point earlier, but now I understand. But I wonder if people like the teacher in the post can ever understand.

          It’s like how many Christians shit egg rolls when they learn about children being indoctrinated into other religions. At the same time, they proudly support indoctrinating children into Christianity.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            Yeah, there’s that. The people who need the shock will almost invariably double down when given it. “It’s okay because WE’RE doing it, and WE are right!”

      • SansDeus

        Exactly, it makes me wonder how that encounter would have happened if the student was missing their right arm or both arms or was mute? Is one to assume someone in that situation isn’t showing the same amount of respect or has the same amount of pride? It’s not like the kid was being disrespectful by making noises or causing a scene during it.

        • smrnda

          I once asked a Catholic how they handled the sign of the cross in a similar situation. I don’t remember if she knew.

    • Gus

      I was thinking the student should do that. Forced to salute the flag during the Pledge against your conscience? Use the traditional flag salute that originally came with the Pledge so the teacher has to acknowledge the totalitarianism of the whole thing.

  • JWH

    Somebody should fax the teacher a copy of the Barnette decision.

  • Nick Wride

    Fire her. Simple.

  • JBryson

    Mindless recitation of an oath is the opposite of actual patriotism and informed civic responsibility.

  • frillbot

    I have a longtime friend that had a Jehovah’s Witness background. Doesn’t vote, celebrate birthdays, Christmas…..the flag, etc. It never really bothered me, BUT….I would sometimes worry when we’d attend baseball games together……The National Anthem ‘thing’…….I’ll at least stand up……just to avoid the hassle you get from people in the surrounding seats if you don’t. My friend used to just completely head off for the beer stand. I remember one National League Playoff game I attended where I stood up ( as usual ), but it was windy, I had my cap on my head with a radio headset on top of that….one hand holding a beer and the other a couple of hot dogs. Pain in the ass enough to ‘rise’ from my seat, but did. Midway thru the ‘tune’ some mutherf#%ker directly behind me made a move to flick the bill of my cap …..barking at me “Remove your hat!” I turned around and glared at the POS thru the rest of the anthem. I’d have loved to have flung my big beer into his face, but I didn’t want to be thrown out of the park. It WAS a Playoff game. By the way, I am a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran, and so I don’t need to be told how I should or should NOT properly react to this flag horse crap . Ever since that incident….to THIS day……..I’ve learned to get up & leave the area….at whatever event ( airshows, sporting events, etc. ) I’m at…..when that damned anthem starts up.

    • Lagerbaer

      Reminds me of my favorite part of Borat: When he’s at the Rodeo, singing, to the tune of the US anthem, “Kazakhstan is the greatest country in the world / all other countries are run by little girls” and who the entire stadium just goes apeshit crazy.

      • Bryy

        You think that’s something? Once, during Comic-Con, I recited the Pledge of Alliegence when everyone else was reciting the Green Lantern oath… they went fucking crazy.

        • Lagerbaer

          Now THIS is disrespectful. The Green Lantern works so hard to do whatever it is they do which I don’t know since I haven’t read the comic.

      • Little_Magpie

        “And your beer sucks!” … to quote a completely other movie.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Virginia_State_Board_of_Education_v._Barnette

    The family needs to sue the teacher for violating the student’s first amendment rights. Period. Case closed. End of story.

  • busterggi

    I had to renew my loyalty oath last night so I could remain a volunteer in the Medical Reserve Corps. It was soooo hard not to raise both my fists and say “Hail Hydra” at the end.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Cut off one limb and two more shall take its place!

    • Raising_Rlyeh

      FOR COBRA!!!!

      • busterggi

        Is’t that a boy band?

        • Raising_Rlyeh

          Well, Cobrastarship is, but I was thinking of the terrorist group from G.I. Joe. I thought you were talking about Hydra from Marvel.

  • L.Long

    “[I] just wanted all of the students to respect the day,” she said.
    She is COMPLETELY delusional!!!
    They are 4th graders, your lucky if they can remember what they had for lunch much less what happened to someone else 10yr ago.
    And they don’t really know what the pledge is or means.

  • seanfraser11

    This is practically in my backyard! I live about 40 miles north of Spring Hill. I knew about the story but didn’t realize it happened so close to me.

  • SansDeus

    It’s hard enough standing in silence and being the odd-one-out, much less to be harangued and physically reprimanded in front of a group of your peers for respecting your parents beliefs.

    I can’t speak for this kid, he might have better parents than I. I despised being a JW, losing friends because their parents didn’t want them to be indoctrinated by me and sitting in hallways while other kids did all manner of celebratory holiday assignments. Getting bullied or ostracized for being different. It’s an unbearably lonely to be excluded when all you really want is to fit in and have friends.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Oh aye, I did that too. I chose to (grew up Jewish, and my parents didn’t force or expect me to sit anything out, but I refused to do things like sing Silent Night in music class all on my own). It is hard. I’m glad my teachers didn’t try to force things.

  • sam

    If you find yourself in a story with a Jehovah’s Witness (an 8 year old, no less) and the Jehovah’s Witness is the reasonable one in the story, you’ve got problems.

  • Jess Monster

    The problem is, most of these teachers know that they can’t officially reprimand students who refuse to stand or say the pledge. Instead, they bully them in class verbally and through attempted peer shaming.
    I was bullied by my homeroom teacher when I chose to stay seated and finish my advanced Latin translations one morning my junior year of high school. The teacher sent me to the vice principal who tried to shame me with the asinine comment of “What would a veteran think if they saw you sitting down during the pledge?” After that I didn’t stand ever again. Eventually this teacher assigned me to a desk at the back of the room facing away from the flag and I remained there until I finished high school – as one of the top students in a class of over 200 graduates.
    I still remember what these “educators” did almost ten years ago and it still disgusts me, but I think that I’ll use my multiple degrees in science and, soon, medicine to wipe away my tears of rage. In some ways I was lucky. I was a very good student and held in high esteem by other faculty and administrators at my school. Even when this particular teacher tried to escalate his bullying, he was shut down again and again. Were I a different student, perhaps one considered a “troublemaker,” things could have been very different and this person could have done significant damage that could land a student in truancy court (like falsifying attendance records, which he tried to do).
    Bullying students like this is always wrong. It should not be tolerated and these “educators” should be ousted from the ranks.

  • Timmah

    ”In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can’t do the pledge,”

    But Ma’am I’m an atheist, I don’t even subscribe to a religion so that argument doesn’t really hold any wa OW MAH WRIST YOU CRAZY PSYCHO!

    • Leiningen’s Ants

      “Because I’m eight years old and that’s too old for make-believe friends in sk–” *SMACK*

  • A3Kr0n

    “The right for students to opt out of the pledge dates to a 1943 Supreme Court ruling, West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, said Catherine Cameron”.
    Why didn’t anybody tell me this when I was growing up? Damn!

  • Ashley Nasello

    “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” it’s just a flag and I refuse to pledge my allegiance to it. I have never made one of my students say it if they do not wish to. I don’t even care why they don’t want to do it. I don’t pledge my allegiance to a symbol either.

    • Stev84

      Americans have a flag fetish. The American flag isn’t just some symbol, but has been magically imbued with some form of life. Then there is this whole pseudo-religion around worshiping the flag with hundreds of insane rules on how to treat it. And severe social punishment for anyone who fails to do the rituals correctly.

  • Susan Ruffaner Gahagan

    She wanted the students to “respect the day,” but she has no respect for the students…..and their Constitutional rights.

  • Dana Logsdon

    As a former JW who now despises his parents for stealing part of my childhood from me, I have to say, that I wish something like this would have happened to me. Maybe I would have realized sooner that religion was nonsense. That being said, it’s a clear violation of civil rights. She should have been FIRED!

  • Jeff Walker

    All this drama over something that was designed to sell flags and magazines at elementary schools……

  • AtariBaby

    No disrespect to the many awesome teachers out there, but we all know there are fucking awful, awful teachers out there. No one gets through an education without a few. This is one of those awful, awful teachers. You know this is just the tip of the awful iceberg.

    • smrnda

      True. There are so many teachers it’s impossible some bad ones don’t get through.

  • Axel Cho

    Which one should make me angrier, a 4th grader indoctrinated by a stupid cult, or a 4th grader grabbed by a stupid wingnut teacher?

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Yes.

  • onamission5

    No one should be compelled by government representatives or employees to perform a specific, public ritual at a specific time in order to “respect the day” of 9-11. This includes school children. Whether or not such rituals go against their religious beliefs is a secondary matter.

    That the teacher thought it was her prerogative to place her hands on a child and physically force that child to comply with her instructions against their better judgment, that makes for one furious parent over here.

  • Buckley

    This, This right her is PRECISELY why the Supreme Court needs to clearly define separation of church and state once and for all. It’s not just for me, the atheist, it’s also for the believer…in this case it was the “wrong” belief, according to the teacher.

    • Crash Override

      Agreed. It’s just as much for their protection as it is for ours. It’s a shame more believers don’t see that.

  • Jeff Ritter

    I’m a vet, former Marine with time served in Afghanistan and I do stand and say the pledge although I’m rarely in a situation where that happens. I don’t say under god, just keep silent and I don’t put my hand over my heart I stand at attention same thing when the national anthem is played, just stand at attention and remove my hat. I have my kids, a preschooler and 2nd grader stand still but don’t make them say the pledge or anything. I can see where a lot of you come from and wouldn’t care if it was removed really, nothing anyone has said bothers me in the least. My actions have virtually nothing to do with the flag, or the pledge. It does have a bit to do with the meanings behind those words but much more than that it is my way to honor my brothers that didn’t come home with me. I know how they felt about things, we wouldn’t have agreed on a lot of things like god, politics or whether the pledge should be mandatory. But each time I stand I feel as if I’m showing a bit if honor to their memory. I know they’re gone and this action is really about comforting myself and sense of loss, but I’ll continue to do it. One day when the kids are much older i’ll tell them this but now is much much to early. All that said, if any teacher would do this to either of my kids she’d be on the wrong side of a pissed off father and Marine. She should be fired without a doubt. There are so many more thoughtful and important ways to show support for the good things we do in this country, including standing up to the powers that be when they are using that power to do bad things. Sorry about the long rant/ramble the upcoming holiday brings back some bitter-sweet memories. I shared a fighting hole with men and some women from all walks of life, creeds, gays that couldn’t tell anyone, the whole religious and political spectrum and we were all one. At that moment we were brothers, sisters, family. We had to be. That is truly one thing I miss, the ability to set aside our differences and lean on each other. If only it didn’t take war to experience that.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    ”In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can’t do the pledge,”

    Spoke by someone who clearly hasn’t studied any other religion other than her own.

  • C.

    Hmmm… more and more cases of soft-line consequences for increasingly hardline violations. I think that the spirit of the times is ever so subtly moving toward totalitarianism, as it does from time to time. I don’t imagine true freedom of religion will last much longer in this republic, and with it freedom in generally will flag.

    Nothing to be done about it but pack the bags. Sweden, maybe

  • Brie

    My students have to get through the national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and part of the Declaration of Independence. I don’t think that there is one student that actually recites any of it. I’m not sure if they’re taking their cue from me, but every now and then I look around and realize that I don’t think any of them know what they are doing or why they are doing it…

    My worry, is the the repercussions to myself if the principal (or a parent) came in and saw that I wasn’t, for lack of a better word, forcing students to participate. I still encourage my students to stand, but that is about the extent. I suppose if they didn’t want to even stand I would pull them aside to find out why…

    Before I embraced being a heathen ;) I’ll admit that I would tell students that they had to do the whole nine yards unless they brought me a note from home saying their parent/guardian said it was okay for them not to participate. But even then I think it was about keeping my job and avoiding being bullied myself…

  • http://bloggbib.net/Tanz/ Eva Mostraum

    I’m not an American, so of course I never said the pledge when I lived in the US. I did stand up though, during it and when the national anthem was played, that’s only showing respect. Fortunately a pledge like that is something I’ve never been expected to say at home either, and something we’d never expect our children to take part in.

    Just a reminder to you and that horrid school teacher in Florida; More than 350 (not including the attackers), around 12% of the people that died during the 9/11 attacs, were non-US citizens.

  • Gus

    Evidence, once again, that there’s no freedom of religion without freedom from religion. Everyone should be working for government institutions, particularly schools, to be entirely secular. Because it’s not just for atheists. It’s for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians of differing sects, Sikhs, Bahai, and yes even *shudder* Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course the pledge issue goes beyond religion because it’s just obscene that we force young children to take a daily loyalty oath as we’re some kind of totalitarian state.

    And the teacher is a classic bully. His need to physically force a child to salute the flag is exactly like a parent who hits their kid or a cop who tasers an old lady because they don’t give the authority figure his (usually) expected obeisance.

    • Gus

      She. Here I am saying “usually he” and using male pronouns because we’re so used to bullies and abusers being male. Shame on me for not taking a second to look back up and check my assumptions.

  • Gus

    Yet another item to file away in my list of reasons never to move back to Florida.

  • StevesWeb

    This is a graphic illustration of the trouble with icons. First we create an icon for our freedoms – the flag – then we force people to honor it. DUH! In what way is coercion a celebration of freedom?

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Once again I count all the lucky stars I don’t believe in anyway to be fated to be born in California to Unitarian parents.


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