Young Atheist’s Fight Against School’s Illegal Pledge Policy May Finally Lead to Change

Jul 12, 2016

By Hemant Mehta

As I posted back in April, I’ve heard of students being told they had to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance even though they legally don’t have to. But I’ve rarely seen the adults at a school flip out over the issue as much as they did at Acadiana High School in Louisiana.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to Superintendent Donald Aguillard detailing the unbelievable things junior Raymond Smith had to deal with.

The student in question, for personal and religious reasons, does not wish to participate in the Pledge exercise in any manner. On Monday, April 11, he tried to remain seated during the recitation, but says he was intimidated into standing by his teacher, Mr. Romero, who reportedly used an expletive, yelling at the student and calling him “f—ing disrespectful.” The following day the student decided that he would try to find the strength to abide by his principles despite whatever bullying the teacher might inflict upon him. When he remained seated, the teacher took him out into the hall and lectured him about soldiers dying (apparently suggesting that opting out of the Pledge was somehow an insult to the military — an interpretation that is, of course, the subjective opinion of the teacher). The teacher then improperly demanded to know why the student wished to sit out, to which the student — who remained respectful at all times — replied that the exercise posed a religious conflict. The teacher was dismissive, saying there was no religious conflict, and warned that the student would be “taken to the office” if he continued to opt out. Then today, April 13, before the Pledge was even recited, Mr. Romero reportedly took the student out to the hall and again badgered the student for wishing to not participate in the exercise, telling the student he should move to a different country. The student tried to end the conversation several times, but the teacher would not allow it. Mr. Romero said the student would be written up each day if he didn’t participate, adding that he (the teacher) had the support of administration on the issue. He then sent the student to the office.

The student’s nightmare did not end there. This horrific treatment — of a young man who wishes nothing but to opt out of a voluntary exercise — was compounded when the student went to the office, where he was told (incorrectly) that federal law “has no say” on the matter and that Mr. Romero has the right to set his own rules regarding Pledge participation. He was then told that he would be required to take his class in the guidance office if he refused to participate in the morning exercise. The student tried to explain himself but was told that he was being “disrespectful.” He was then asked whether he had been allowed to opt out of the exercise at his last school, to which he said yes. He was then told, in what he reports was a very rude and unprofessional manner, that he “should have stayed at ECA where you can do what you want.”

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2 comments on “Young Atheist’s Fight Against School’s Illegal Pledge Policy May Finally Lead to Change

  • As an evangelical Christian, I find it ironic that non-believers get treated badly when they do not take part in the Pledge of Allegiance. Early Christians refused to take part in ceremonies intended to venerate the Emperor and paid a heavy price. The same kind of slurs about patriotism were made about them too. Wouldn’t you think we would have learned something from that?

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  • Hi David, good to see you here. Yes, you make a very good point. One that you could probably bring to the attention of your community much better than anyone else posting here. I hope you do. Despite disbelieving and more importantly disliking(*) the entire world-view of Christianity, especially the evangelical variety, I see there are some strong moral pointers in the teachings, most of which seem to be blatantly ignored in the day to day behavior of the more vocal devotees, especially those in any kind of position of authority. I do hope you can make a difference, pointing out this “irony”.

    (*) dislike is too mild a term, but I can’t find a better one that wouldn’t seem impolite. Thank you for your post.

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