Atheist group’s “Don’t Say The Pledge” campaign defends the rights of North Dakota student

On September 12, 2014, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to school officials at the New Town Public School District in New Town, North Dakota, concerning infringement of a student’s constitutional right to abstain from participating in the school’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The letter states that a six-year-old, first grade student declined to take part in the school’s Pledge exercise by sitting at his desk in a quiet and undisruptive manner. However, his teacher has instructed him to stand during the Pledge and even physically lifted him from his chair. When the student’s parents, Jesse Moore and Kristina Leiffer, tried to discuss the matter with school officials, their concerns were dismissed. After learning about the American Humanist Association’s Don’t Say the Pledge campaign through the website DontSaythePledge.com, the parents reported the situation to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

“Allowing students to exercise their right to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance is a matter of free speech and freedom of conscience,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, citing the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.  “Coercing a student into standing for the Pledge infringes upon his or her constitutional rights.”

The letter demands that school officials inform teachers and students that students have the right to remain seated during the Pledge recitation. The letter also demands that teachers be instructed not to persuade students to stand for the Pledge when they exercise their right to remain seated during it and that teachers be advised that they should not discipline, retaliate against, shame or embarrass students who choose not to participate in the Pledge exercise.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here, and more information about the Don’t Say the Pledge campaign can be found at DontSaythePledge.com.

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