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Pledge of Allegiance Boycott Reveals Harassment Directed at Atheist Students

For Immediate Release


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

(Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2014)—The American Humanist Association’s boycott of the Pledge of Allegiance revealed a pattern of coercion and harassment directed at public school students who exercise their right to opt out of participating in their schools’ daily Pledge recitations. The boycott, launched on September 8, encourages individuals who object to “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to remain seated during the Pledge.

“Children who do not agree that America is ‘under God’ are repeatedly being marginalized as second-class citizens,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “This discrimination demonstrates the need to restore the Pledge to its pre-Cold War, inclusive wording of ‘one nation indivisible.’”

Hundreds of students and families have contacted the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center through the campaign’s website, BoycottthePledge.com, to report violations of their rights by teachers who have threatened children with punishment for staying seated during the Pledge. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center has responded to these reports with letters to many school districts across the country informing them that threatening to discipline students who sit down during the Pledge is a constitutional violation.

“Despite the unequivocal right of students to choose not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, we’ve discovered that students’ attempts to opt out of the Pledge are all too often met with hostility and threats of punishment from teachers,” 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.

One 10th grade student who contacted the organization, Matthew Potospsky, was threatened with punishment when he quietly and undisruptively remained seated at his desk during his high school’s daily Pledge exercise. He told the Appignani Humanist Legal Center that “I choose to sit down, and my teacher says it’s disrespectful. The teacher threatens me and says she will seek disciplinary action if I don’t stand up.” Another student, a 7th grader, who attempted to sit out the Pledge was berated by his teacher, pressured to stand and asked, “Do you hate America?” When the student reported feeling afraid, his mother, Sandra Covarrubias, contacted the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Many students who contact the legal center express a strong conviction that they are upholding their rights and expressing their beliefs. “I am constantly asked why I don’t stand up, and I see it as a chance to educate more people about the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and why the phrase ‘under God’ has no place in the Pledge,” said Lorena Perez, a high school senior.

The boycott is a response to a study by The Seidewitz Group, jointly commissioned by the American Humanist Association and the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which found that 34 percent of Americans supported removing the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance after learning that the phrase was not part of the original Pledge wording but was instead added in 1954 during the McCarthy era. More information about the boycott can be found at BoycottthePledge.com.


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.