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A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a seventh grader in the San Jacinto Unified School District in California. He was reprimanded by his teacher after remaining seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. As usual, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center was on it:

[Teacher] Mr. Burns informed the student, falsely, that the law requires students to stand. Moreover, Mr. Burns questioned the student as to the reason for not participating in the exercise, asking him: “Is it your religion, do you have a personal problem, or do you hate America?” He then proceeded to makes statements obviously intended to pressure the child into participating, suggesting non-participation shows the child is ungrateful for the opportunities America offers and saying he “feels sorry” for the child, as if the child’s stance is pitiable.

That student, 11-year-old Ivan Covarrubias, spoke to local newspaper reporters about what was going through his mind during all of that:

A San Jacinto middle school student said he was “scared” when a teacher admonished him for not standing up during the “Pledge of Allegiance” because it went against his atheist beliefs.
“I was shocked at what he said,” said Ivan Covarrubias, an 11-year-old seventh-grader at Monte Vista Middle School.

It should go without saying, but Ivan did nothing wrong. His teacher, on the other hand, needed a lesson in the Constitution, not to mention how to deal with young students.
That wasn’t even the entirety of the problem. The same teacher had a banner in the classroom reading “Prayer changes things.” The AHA also asked for the banner to come down.
Yesterday, I’m happy to say, the AHA noted that everything had been resolved. The school district informed them that the Pledge issue had already been taken care of before they received AHA’s letter. That said, they will remind all staff members (through their principals) that sitting during the Pledge is an acceptable option for students.
The religious banner has been taken down, too.

“We’re pleased that the school district has recognized the rights of students to remain seated during the Pledge, as well as the need to keep references to prayer and other religious practices out of the classroom,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

How about a big Internet hand for Ivan, for having the guts to remain seated? It’s not often a middle school student’s silent protest causes this much change.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.

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