Last Tuesday 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.”
A day after the letter was sent, according to the Elmira Star-Gazette, Elmira Superintendent Hillary Austin sent an email to school staff “outlining key points surrounding a student’s right to decline participation in the Pledge of Allegiance.” Some of the rights outlined in the email included the fact that students “cannot be compelled to salute the flag, recite the pledge, or even stand in silence” and neither students nor faculty “may not retaliate against the students opting out through threats, intimidation, or any other behaviors that would violate the Code of Conduct.”