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Humanist Group Defends California Student Punished for Omitting “Under God” from the 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., Nov. 11, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the Tracy Unified School District in Tracy, California, on behalf of Derek Giardina, a student at Merrill F. West High School who was suspended and given a failing grade for omitting the phrase “under God” when he read the Pledge of Allegiance over the school’s speaker system. The American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center is representing Giardina in this matter.

According to the letter, the disciplinary action taken against Giardina by school officials is a violation of his constitutional rights. The letter demands that his grade be recalculated and that the punishment he has received be removed from his academic record. Giardina was penalized after he led the school in the Pledge exercise using the pre-1954 wording of the Pledge, which did not include the “under God” language, because he is an agnostic who objects to the theistic phrasing in the current version of the Pledge. He was also told by school staff that the law required that the Pledge be recited with “under God.”

“Numerous cases have determined that students may participate in the Pledge exercise but omit any phrase that they find objectionable. Punishing a student for doing so is an egregious violation of her or his First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Students may even refrain entirely from participating in the Pledge, if they so choose,” she added, in reference to the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

“Disciplining an agnostic student for exercising his rights is discrimination,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Including ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance marginalizes the millions of patriotic Americans who are agnostic, atheist, humanist or otherwise good without a god.”

According to the American Humanist Association’s BoycottThePledge.com website, the phrase “under God” reduces atheists, agnostics, humanists and other nontheists to second-class citizens. The website encourages individuals who object to this phrase in the Pledge to opt out of participating in it until the phrase is removed.

A copy of the letter sent by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center 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.