(Washington, DC, Sept. 18, 2015)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center successfully defended the First Amendment rights of a student at Cottonwood Valley Charter School in Soccorro, New Mexico, who was reprimanded by a teacher for exercising the right to remain seated during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
On September 15, 2015, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at the charter school and the superintendent of Soccorro Consolidated Schools. The letter was sent on behalf of a parent, whose fourth grade student has been struggling since last school year to sit during the Pledge without pushback from teachers. The parents informed the school that they supported their child’s decision and even sent resources explaining that under the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, students have the right to nonparticipation in the Pledge exercise. However, the student’s teacher insisted that the student stand, hand over heart, and participate in the exercise. The teacher even threatened to withhold the student’s recess privileges for failing to stand for the Pledge.
In response to the legal center’s letter, the charter school principal sent an email making written assurances that the student would be permitted to opt out of the Pledge without harassment or discipline from teachers.
“We here at Cottonwood Valley Charter school completely agree that students have the right to opt out of this formality. And in fact a few of our own faculty do chose to opt out,” the principal stated in the email.
“The school has responded promptly and positively to our concerns, and we are confident that the student’s right to freedom of speech and conscience will be upheld,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association.
The American Humanist Association has received dozens of emails and calls about students in similar situations, many of whom reach out through the BoycottthePledge.com website, the hub of a campaign to provide resources to students who sit out the Pledge and inform them about how the “under God” language in the Pledge, added in 1954 during the McCarthy Era, marginalizes humanists and atheists by making them look like second-class citizens.
A copy of the letter sent to the school can be viewed here.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic 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.