A California High School student was punished for omitting “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Derek Giardina, 17, a student at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California, said the Pledge of Allegiance properly as instructed as part of the morning announcements. While he omitted only two words, which were added during the anti-Communist panic of the 1950’s.
Unfortunately, the school lacks the necessary knowledge of American history to appreciate the traditional manner of reciting the Pledge, arguing that if a student is going to lead the school, the pledge must promote one specific deity — or, the “traditional way,” as the school says.
Giardina says he was required to lead the school in the pledge as part of a debate class assignment, but that he would normally abstain because he is disillusioned with our country, and is not at all religious. Everyone in the class is required to lead the pledge 12 times a year. The first two times he led the school, he recited the bastardized 1954 version of the pledge, but the third time he recited it properly.
“Personally I wouldn’t say the pledge at all, because I’m not necessarily very patriotic, and I’m not religious,” he said.
Giardina later learned that his grade had been marked down because he chose to correctly honor our country. “I think I have a low C now, from doing other speeches, but it is a very large point value,” he said. He received a warning that if he omitted the unnecessary phrase again, he would be punished. Previously, the reduced grades were causing him to fail.
On his fourth time leading the pledge, Giardina stood his ground and once again said the Pledge without “under God,” and received detention for his efforts. “There’s something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs,” he said.
“It started just being about my own feelings,” Giardina explained. “I feel like the backlash that we’ve felt from this makes it less about the grade and less about us in particular, but more about the cultural and the social ramifications of having your own ideas and your own thoughts and thinking for yourself.”
District spokesman Sam Strube says that while the administration respects all students’ rights not to say the pledge, and to omit “under God,” Giardina’s grades were docked, and he was disciplined, because the reading was an assignment.
“A public forum where you’re going to represent the school is not a place where you can voice a controversial issue and force that on other people,” Strube said, noting that an alternative assignment was made available to single out students who chose to exercise their right to say the pledge properly. “Students are given that choice, and so if you’re representing the school and you’re reading the announcements to the class, you can be graded on how well you read the announcements.”
But, of course, Giardina was not graded on how well he read the announcements. He was graded on his willingness to appeal to a deity. He says that he was aware there was an alternate assignment, but he was concerned over how he would be graded if he opted not lead the recitation of the pledge. “I felt like she wouldn’t grade me properly,” Giardina said.
When Giardina’s mother discovered the low grades after checking her son’s status online, she e-mailed the teacher, Shauna Baker. Baker responded that “He will not be allowed to do the bulletin unless he does the Pledge of Allegiance properly.”
After his mother contacted Baker, Giardina faced further harassment when the teacher spoke to him privately. “She had told me, if we don’t say the pledge properly, we’ll get suspended and kicked out of the class,” he said.
Army veteran Dominic Giardina, the student’s father, defends his son’s decision.
“Derek’s exercising his First Amendment rights. What’s more patriotic than that? So why is he being punished for just omitting part of the pledge? That is not written in the Ed Code anywhere,” he said. “We wanted him to grow up and have his own thoughts about law and religion and society. And he does. I think that everybody his age should be able to feel that same way,” he said.
“I just want to see him treated fairly. I want to see him treated as citizens and not as second-class citizens with their own thoughts and their own ideas that are very valid,” said the veteran. “If their thoughts are different than yours, that’s OK. America’s a very diverse place.”
The Friendly Atheist reports that other students have been punished over their refusal to promote a religion in school. At least one other student’s grades have been lowered because of their refusal to say “Under God.”
Junior Adrianna Teboe, 16, has faced similar discrimination. She says she felt uncomfortable saying “under God,” and stuck to her principles during the assignment. “I’ve never been comfortable saying ‘under God.’ My dad has always just taught me, don’t just do it,” she said. “When we would do it in class time, I wouldn’t mouth it, I would just sit there and wait to start again. I would never say it and I never wanted to, because I always thought, Why should I force myself to say something I don’t believe in?” she said.
“I think it’s kind of ridiculous that they are punishing us for sticking up for what we believe in,” she said. “What better way to represent West High or America than to show that we have the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.”