AHA Defends Another Student on Pledge of Allegiance

AHA Defends Another Student on Pledge of Allegiance May 29, 2014

A student in Texas was punished for refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance recently and now a student in New York has faced a similar situation. The American Humanist Association’s Apginini Humanist Legal Center has sent a letter to the school demanding a change in policy.

Today the American Humanist Association submitted a letter to the Elmira City School District in New York, on behalf of an atheist student who objects to the Phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The anonymous student stated that, when she attempted to simply sit during the Pledge, her high school teacher instructed her to stand. She was also told by the teacher in front of her classmates that not standing for the Pledge “is disrespectful to America and to military personnel.”

“Forcing students to participate in the Pledge against their will is an infringement on their constitutional rights,” said American Humanist Association executive director, Roy Speckhardt. “By singling out students who do not wish to participate, the school is discriminating against children who are good without a god.”

“Federal courts have consistently upheld the right of students to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance as a matter of free speech and freedom of conscience,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Since the Pledge exercise defines patriotism in terms of God-belief, it’s perfectly understandable that many good, patriotic atheist children and families would want to exercise their right to opt out.”

The American Humanist Association demands that teachers allow students to opt out of the daily Pledge exercise, cease to persuade students to participate, and not punish or reprimand students who choose to remain seated.

Seriously, it’s time that we started mandating that all teachers and school administrators take a course and have reference materials available on what the law says on these very common situations. We see far too many instances where a student or administrator violates a student’s rights in this manner, either because they’re ignorant or just don’t care what the law says (or both, in some cases). It’s time we made sure that everyone in a position of authority in schools knows the law and the limits of their authority. We could do it as part of their continuing education requirements and, once they’ve taken the course, we should hold them accountable for it.

You can read their full letter here.

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  • Synfandel

    She was also told by the teacher in front of her classmates that not standing for the Pledge “is disrespectful to America and to military personnel.”

    The “and to military personnel” phrase speaks volumes about American culture.

  • iknklast

    And sometimes it isn’t ignorance, but arrogance. My son didn’t stand for the Pledge when he went to high school. He had several reasons, and they were his own. One of his teachers told him that he (the teacher) couldn’t force my son to stand and say the pledge, but if he (my son) chose to be disrespectful to America and to his teacher (a veteran), then the teacher had no obligation to do anything to see help my son get through his class. This is so untrue; the basic job of a teacher is to help the students understand the material and get through the class, regardless of how disrespectful and annoying the student might be.

    In my opinion, the teacher was the one disrespecting America by forcing his opinion on my son. I didn’t have any resources at the time, did not know about places like the AHA or the FFRF, and had a family that was in full support of the teacher. So I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it, since it took every penny I earned just to feed us. I wish I had said something; I wonder how many other students have had their rights violated by this teacher?

  • plutosdad

    Part of me wishes they did not talk about God. It’s really nothing to do with religion, it’s to do with free speech. We can’t force people to take oaths. Even in court you don’t have to go through that if you don’t want to, just affirm you will be honest, and accept punishment if you are dishonest. If we can’t force people to take an oath in court, when it truly matters, then we can’t force children to take an oath before getting their education.

  • dingojack

    Here’s a wild idea…. ditch the pledge.

    What purpose(s) does it serve? Is that purpose (or are those purposes) a net benefit or a net deficit? Why do you expect children to recite a loyalty oath, but not require adults to do the same?


  • Synfandel

    Dingo, that’s basically what I said the last time we were discussing The Pledge, but I didn’t get much traction. Everyone seemed obsessed about whether The Pledge should include God or not. I really don’t get the whole pledge thing. What’s the point? And what gives the education system the right to require an oath from children?

  • marcus

    Dingo @ 4 and Syn @ 5


    It should also be noted that those ‘military personnel’ were called to fight,, and many gave their lives, for the rights that this teacher so blithely disregards.

  • dingojack

    Marcus – is there a link in there somewhere?

    🙂 Dingo

  • doublereed

    Again, if the pledge was mandatory then we could at least argue it’s purpose is brainwashing children, but it’s not. So it serves no purpose whatsoever.

  • davem

    Reciting a pledge of allegiance has always seemed to me to be a sign of insecurity on behalf of the state. States that have one are either jingoistic ‘Look at us, how powerful we are’, or authoritarian ‘pledge allegiance, or else’. Pledges seem to be coincidental with lots of flags on public and private buildings. Just relax, the commies under your beds(who don’t exist, anyway) will not invade just because you’ve stopped reciting a pledge. They might stop laughing, though…

  • Kevin Kehres

    @4: Because how will we know whether the Southerners are truly repentant of their sins against the United States by starting the Civil War?

  • Kevin Kehres

    Note: No actually history presented in the above post.

  • Kevin Kehres

    Note: No actual history presented in the above post.

  • marcus

    @7 Not necessarily, just noting the hypocrisy and the irony of the teacher’s silly claim. It is beyond ridiculous to ask someone to give up their rights to honor those who fought and died for those very rights.

  • gAytheist

    Back in the days long ago when I was in high school I refused to participate in the pledge. Although I was already an atheist, the “under god” thing was not the reason I refused. I just could not make sense of pledging my allegiance to a flag. I would have been happy to pledge my allegiance to the constitution or simply to the United States of America, but pledging to a piece of cloth? It just made no sense.

  • howardhershey

    Like many of the court cases involving freedom of religion, the *right* of students not to pledge allegiance (or even stand during it) was decided before the phrase “under God” was added to it and even well before most states made the pledge an allowed part of the school day (local schools can mandate it). It was decided by the Supreme Court in 1940, in the case of Jehovah Witnesses who regarded a flag pledge to be idolatry, that they *could* be compelled to swear the Pledge. After cases of mob violence and intimidation against JWs who continued to refuse, the Supreme court reversed itself in 1943 (possibly a record for a change of Supreme Court rulings).

    Not coincidentally, the refusal to pledge allegiance to the state also led to JWs being persecuted by the Nazis. [Possibly one of the reasons why the U.S. Supremes changed its mind. Didn’t look good to be supporting Nazi-like mob and thug behavior when we were at war with them.] In 2005, an attempt by some Republicans was made to strip the power of the courts to even consider legal challenges to government actors who require or mandate the pledge (and in particular the phrase “Under God”). They apparently prefer mob rule and intimidation over a Constitution (one they claim to love) that was designed to protect minority positions.

  • Respect and loyalty can’t be given, they has to be mandated. That’s how they work.

  • gAytheist @14

    I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America

    and to the republic so created, one nation, indivisible, with

    Liberty and Justice for all.

  • whheydt

    Hmmm…. I wonder what would happen if one of the teachers pressuring a kid to recite the pledge were to be presented with a well-researched paper giving its history, citing court rulings and including the salute that Bellamy originally put for to use…

  • Steve Morrison

    Jehovah Witnesses who regarded a flag pledge to be idolatry

    God hates flags!

  • Ichthyic

    t’s time we made sure that everyone in a position of authority in schools knows the law and the limits of their authority. We could do it as part of their continuing education requirements and, once they’ve taken the course, we should hold them accountable for it.

    most school districts have a lawyer on staff.

    that lawyer’s job should entail making his clients aware of the law.

    I’d ask the lawyer why in the fuck they aren’t doing their job.

  • Ichthyic

    ..if you personally ARE a lawyer for a school district… do you sit in on school board meetings?

    why not?

  • John Pieret

    OK, as a New Yorker, you have to understand that Elmira is right on the Pennsylvania border just about exactly half way between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia … otherwise known as Alabama.

    If Pennsylvania wanted to annex Elmira, there wouldn’t be a peep of protest.

  • John Pieret


    most school districts have a lawyer on staff

    Well, yes and no. Many if not most school boards (in my area of the country, at least) have an outside attorney that they pay hourly fees to. Mostly they deal with contracts, building projects, taxes and the like. School Boards are unlikely to run up those fees by consulting them on school policy of this sort. When these kind of issues arise, the boards will turn to their insurance company lawyers who will (hopefully) explain the Constitution in great detail to them. Unfortunately, as in the case in Dover, the boards don’t always listen to them … and, when they don’t, the insurance companies disclaim and the taxpayers and kids wind up paying.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    I am a high school teacher in Oregon. Here, the legislature passed a law years ago mandating once-weekly recitation of the PoA. When second period on Mondays rolls around, just before they read it over the loudspeaker, I tell the kids to stand and recite it if they wish and to sit quietly if they do not. I sit quietly and take roll. No student ever stands up and says the PoA.

    I am not sure any teacher in my building says the PoA. But this Oregon, not Alabama or even Pennsylvania….

  • I would sorta be okay with this:

    “I pledge allegiance to the principles and rule of law that are embodied in the U.S. Constitution, which principles and rule of law include not having to pledge allegiance to a national token.”

    except for the fact that I find any pledge that is repeated with the frequency, level of understanding and genuine interest that has been the case for the PoA to be somewhat less than necessary.

    I served in the military, I pay my taxes, I vote. That’s as much patriotism as I require and more than is required by the U.S. Constitution–in almost all cases.

  • MJKelleher, lurker in the dark

    As another New Yorker, also near the PA border, I was pleased to read this follow-up on our local regional Gannett rag’s website:

    Elmira school district students can sit during Pledge of Allegiance.

    The district supported the student, sending a memo to all the teachers letting them know the students’ rights.

  • Matrim

    “is disrespectful to America…

    Yeah? So? Even if it were necessarily true that not standing during the pledge is disrespectful to America (which it’s not), somehow I think the Union would survive.

    “…and to military personnel.”

    *pinches bridge of nose, sighs heavily* Ok, so, all the things are wrong with this. 1) The pledge has nothing to do with the military, never mentions the military, and isn’t generally said by the military. 2) Even if it did involve the military, not standing during it doesn’t indicate disrespect toward the military. 3) Even if it was disrespectful toward the military, so fucking what? It’s that student’s right to be disrespectful toward the military either as an institution or as a collective of individuals. There’s a lot about the military that deserves disrespect.

    As a veteran, what I find really disrespectful is when people try to use my service to stifle the “liberty and justice” that I was supposedly fighting for.

  • dingojack

    ” She was also told by the teacher in front of her classmates that not standing for the Pledge ‘is disrespectful… to military personnel.’ ”

    [Insert joke about standing armies here].