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Atheist Student Sits Out the Pledge of Allegiance, Threatened with Punishment

For Immediate Release


Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, merrillmiller@americanhumanist.org

David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, dniose@americanhumanist.org

(Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the Beaufort County School District in Beaufort, South Carolina, on behalf of an anonymous student who has been denied his constitutional rights to refrain from participating in the school’s daily Pledge of Allegiance exercise.

The student, a ninth grader at Right Choices Alternative School, identifies as an atheist and opposes the phrase “under God” in the Pledge. When he has attempted to remain seated at his desk in a quiet and undisruptive manner during the Pledge recitation, his teacher has instructed him to stand, has told him that school policy requires him to stand and has also threatened him with punishment. In addition, the teacher has argued with the student about his atheism, has questioned the student’s patriotism and has insisted that his actions are offensive to members of the U.S. armed services. The student contacted the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the organization’s DontSaythePledge.com campaign website.

“Threatening a student with punishment simply for exercising his or her right to sit out the Pledge demonstrates a shocking disregard for the rights of free speech and religious freedom,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

“No one should have her or his patriotism questioned for objecting to the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Doing so marginalizes humanist and atheist kids as second-class citizens merely for exercising their constitutional rights.”

The letter demands that students and teachers at the school be informed students may refrain from participating in the Pledge exercise. The letter also demands that teachers be instructed that they must not persuade students from sitting out the Pledge and that they should not even questions students who choose to do so. Finally, the letter demands that no disciplinary or other retaliatory measures of any kind be directed toward any student who remains seated during the Pledge.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.


Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.