Officials at a high school in California have issued an apology after a teacher bullied an atheist student into standing for the pledge of allegiance. The incident, which the student reported on the American Humanist Association’s Don’t Say the Pledge web site, occurred when the unidentified ninth-grade student at Oak Park High School in Ventura County was “intimidated” by his teacher into following the herd and standing for the pledge.
“The student’s objection to ‘under God’ in the Pledge demonstrates thoughtful consideration that deserves respect,” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the association, said in a statement.
The group penned a letter to the school district on behalf of the student, asserting that his First Amendment rights had been violated by forcing him to stand for the pledge.
“Under the guise of patriotism, this school authority figure has demonstrated shocking indifference for the very Constitution he claims to deem so sacred,” read the letter. “We demand that this situation be remedied immediately.”
The Los Angeles Times reports that the school has apologized for the offense committed against this student. “It was a mistake,” Anthony Knight, Superintendent of the Oak Park Unified School District, said on Tuesday. Knight reaffirmed the right of students to remain seated for the pledge, and assured that there would not be any repeat occurrences.
Knight said the teacher was unaware of this particular Constitutional protection the student, and all Americans, enjoy. He said that this failure to understand basic civil rights is a district-wide issue. Knight issues a memo to teachers that explained,
“Compelling a student to stand or participate in any way is considered a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights to free speech and expression,” Knight wrote. “There may be a commonly held misunderstanding that students can decide to refrain from saying the Pledge but can be required to stand out of respect. This is not correct.”
He also warned teachers of a social media campaign that encourages students to object to the pledge and report any backlash. The Don’t Say the Pledge campaign suggests that students “stand up for America by sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance boycott until the inclusive version is restored.”
The Pledge, written in 1892, originally read “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The words, “under God” did not appear until 1954, when they were added as anti-Communist propaganda over the objection of Francis Bellamy’s daughter.