How I Stood Up for My Right to Sit Down: a 10-Year-Old Atheist Tells His Story

This is an article by 10-year-old Grover Helton, as told to American Atheist. It appears in the 1st Quarter 2014 issue of American Atheist magazine. American Atheist is available at Barnes & Noble and Book World bookstores in the U.S. and at Chapters/Indigo bookstores in Canada. Go to Atheists.org/magazine to subscribe or to join American Atheists. Members receive a free digital subscription. It’s also available from iTunes.

Grover Helton with sister Kelly

I have never said the Pledge of Allegiance at my school because it says “one nation under god” and I don’t believe in god. But I always stood up with the rest of the class. Then I didn’t want to do that anymore.

My dad has the original Pledge of Allegiance hanging on a wall at home, and I wanted to show it to my teacher. So I brought it downstairs one morning to take to school and my mom said, “Are you sure you are allowed to take it?” I told her that Dad said it was okay (he didn’t).

When I got to school, I showed it to my teacher and I tried to sit down during the pledge, but he made me stand up. The next day, I tried again. I told my teacher that I didn’t want to say the pledge because it makes me feel uncomfortable and I sat down again. He told me to stand up and said to me I had to say the pledge because I’m an American citizen. Then I tried going out in the hall during the pledge so that I didn’t have to say it. At that point, I was trying to figure out what to do.

When I told my dad, he said to me that it was okay if I stood and said the pledge, and it was okay to not say the pledge. But avoiding my problems was unacceptable. So I decided to talk to the principal.

Before I did that, I went online and researched the court cases of kids sitting during the pledge. I put “student pledge lawsuit” into Google. There were a lot of links that came up. There was one from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, where a middle-school student was first punished for not standing during the pledge, but then she was allowed to sit.

When I went to the principal, I said I was uncomfortable about saying the pledge and I spoke to my teacher, and he said I had to say the pledge. I said to the principal that I did some research on the law. Then the principal said I did not have to say the pledge, and it was his job to find the laws of school.

Then he said to tell him about the research I did. I told him there was a girl in school and the girl was being punished for not standing during the pledge. So she sued the school and she won and that was how the law was made. The principal said, “I’ll speak with the teacher and let him know you are allowed to sit during the pledge.”

At recess, the teacher asked me what I was going to do when the pledge started, and I said to him I was going to sit down. Most people didn’t care. Only one classmate got mad at me for doing it, but I told him it was the law. He eventually got over it.

In the middle of all this, we had a parent-teacher conference. The teacher kept asking my dad if there was anything else he would like to discuss. He kept telling him no and only talked about my schoolwork. My dad always said if something didn’t bother me enough to do something about it, then he wasn’t going to do anything about it for me. He wanted to see if I could take care of it myself.

I’m glad I did it. I was nervous, but I was confident I was right and had the support of my dad. When my sister, Kelly, found out, she said if I didn’t have to stand, then why did she? I told her she didn’t have to. But I didn’t know what would happen because she sits in the very front of class, right by the teacher. I sit in the back of class so when I first tried it, not many kids noticed. But she didn’t have any problems on her first try. My dad asked her if she is the only one in her class who sits during the pledge. She said not anymore. Now there are three other kids who sit, too.

***Update*** (1/27/14): Father Jim Helton writes:

Since Kelly sits in the front of class by the teacher, I asked her yesterday how many people where sitting during the pledge. She said most of the class. I asked her to count and let me know. Today she reported that there are 28 kids in her class and 20 of them sit during the pledge.

Grover Helton is a fifth-grader in Louisville, Kentucky. His sister, Kelly, is in fourth grade. His dad is Jim Helton, American Atheists’ Regional Director for Kentucky. He’s still waiting to get his poster back from Grover.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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