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Atheist Group Defends Florida Student Punished for Boycotting Pledge of Allegiance

For Immediate Release


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

David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, dniose@americanhumanist.org

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, mmiller@americanhumanist.org

(Washington, D.C., Oct. 9, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the School District of Lee County in Fort Myers, Florida, regarding a constitutional violation that took place earlier this morning regarding a student who was punished for exercising his constitutional right to remain seated during the school’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

According to the letter, a senior at Cypress Lake High School, who identifies as an atheist and objects to the Pledge exercise on several grounds including its “under God” language, attempted to remain seated at his desk in a quiet and undisruptive manner during the recitation of the Pledge. However, his teacher berated him, accused him of being unpatriotic, and punished him with in-school suspension. When the student reported the matter to the school administration, he was still given the choice of participating in the Pledge exercise or being punished. The student then contacted the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the website DontSaythePledge.com, which provides resources for atheists and humanists wishing to boycott the Pledge of Allegiance because they object to the phrase “under God,” which was added to the Pledge in 1954.

“A student’s right to opt out of the Pledge exercise has been clearly settled by the courts,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in reference to the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “It’s appalling that teachers and administrators would show such hostility to the student and such blatant disregard for the student’s freedom of speech.”  

“Punishing a student for objecting to ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is discrimination against atheist children,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Students should not have their patriotism questioned or be treated as second-class citizens for behaving in accordance with their beliefs.”

The letter demands that the teacher apologize for the student and that all students and teachers in the district be informed that students have the right to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance for any reason. The letter also demands that teachers be advised that they are not to persuade students from refraining from participating in the Pledge in any way and that no disciplinary measures should be directed at students who exercise their right to sit 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.