For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, email@example.com
David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Belfast, ME, March 9, 2015)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at Regional School Unit #20 on behalf of an eleventh grade student at Belfast Area High School in Belfast, Maine. The student was punished by his teacher when he attempted to exercise his constitutional right to remain seated during the school’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to the letter, the student wished to opt out of the Pledge exercise for personal and religious reasons, including his objection to the “under God” language in the Pledge. However, when he remained seated at his desk during the Pledge, his teacher sent him to the principal’s office. The student attempted to explain to school officials that he had the right to not participate in the Pledge, but administrators informed him that he was required to stand for the Pledge and that failure to do so in the future would be met with serious consequences. This incident took place just weeks after students in a South Portland public high school faced backlash for reminding their classmates over the morning announcements that standing for the Pledge is optional.
“The right of students to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance was settled long ago by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in reference to the Court’s ruling in the 1943 case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “Remaining seated for the Pledge is part of public school students’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.”
“Students may have many reasons for exercising their right to opt out of the Pledge,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “For instance, the assertion that this nation is ‘under God’ discriminates against humanist and atheist students by characterizing them as unpatriotic, second-class citizens.”
The letter demands that school district officials inform students and teachers in the district that students may exercise their right to nonparticipation in the Pledge of Allegiance and that any written policy stating otherwise be rescinded. It also demands that teachers be instructed not to attempt to persuade students from sitting during the Pledge or characterize such behavior as wrongful and that no disciplinary action be directed as students who opt out of 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.