For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, email@example.com
(East Syracuse, NY, Oct. 28, 2015)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to officials at East Syracuse Minoa School District on behalf of a student who was mistreated by her teacher for remaining seated during the Pledge of Allegiance.
The letter states that the student, a senior at East Syracuse Minoa Central High in East Syracuse, New York, does not wish to participate in the Pledge exercise because she objects to its “under God” wording. Her class discussed opting out of the Pledge, and the student’s teacher singled her out, using profanities, calling her “selfish” and “disrespectful” and insisting she stand for the Pledge. When the student asserted her right to remain seated during the Pledge, the teacher said, “I don’t care about the law.” The student was so intimidated by the teacher that she broke down in tears and was unable to return to class that afternoon or even the next day. When the student returned to school, the teacher offered a cursory apology and an administrator monitored the class. However, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center is concerned that the school district has not fully responded to this serious violation of the student’s rights.
“Public schools should promote critical thinking, but the teacher’s actions turned what could have been an educational moment into a display of intolerance,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association. “The Supreme Court has declared that students have a fundamental right to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance exercise,” Niose added, referencing the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
The letter demands that the school district inform all students and teachers that students may remain seated for the Pledge for any reason and that teachers must not attempt to dissuade students from exercising this right, question their reasons for opting out, or characterize such behavior as wrongful. The letter also demands that no disciplinary or retaliatory action be directed at students who choose not to participate in the Pledge.
The letter is part of a larger campaign by the American Humanist Association to raise awareness about students’ right to opt out of the Pledge and the discriminatory nature of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge, which marginalizes atheists, humanists and other nontheists as second-class citizens.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., 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.