Middle School Student Threatened with Punishment for Not Standing for the Pledge of Allegiance

Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the Washington County School District in Abingdon, Virginia, on behalf of a student whose constitutional right to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance was violated.

According to the letter, the eighth grade student at E.B. Stanley Middle School chose to refrain from participating in the school’s daily Pledge exercise on several grounds, one of which being that he objects to the phrase “under God.” However, when he attempted to remain seated at his desk in a quiet and undisruptive manner, both this year and last year, his teachers ordered him to stand and threatened him with punishment. His teachers have also accused him of being unpatriotic and disrespectful to members of the U.S. military. The student reported this ongoing First Amendment violation to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the American Humanist Association’s DontSaythePledge.com website, which encourages individuals who feel that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge is discriminatory toward humanists and other nontheists to remain seated during the Pledge exercise.

“Numerous federal and state courts, as well as the United States Supreme Court, have affirmed that a student has a First Amendment right to sit out the Pledge,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Given that this matter is well-settled, the school’s disregard for the student’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience is quite shocking.”

“Harassment and threats of punishment from teachers is just one form of discrimination faced by humanist and atheist children,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “These students should not be treated like second-class citizens merely because they object to the religious implications of ‘under God’ in the Pledge.”

The letter demands that students and teachers at the school be advised that students may refrain from participating in the Pledge for any reason and that teachers be informed that they must not attempt to persuade students to stand for Pledge or even question them about their reasons for nonparticipation. The letter also demands that no disciplinary or retaliatory measures be directed at any student who chooses to remain seated during the Pledge.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

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