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.”
The fact is: no one has to say the Pledge. No one has to stand for the Pledge, either. And refusing to participate in the mindless ritual doesn’t make you unpatriotic or a bad student.
Raymond knew all of that. The people who were in charge of educating him didn’t.
Neither did the school board, apparently. Their official Pledge policy was all kinds of unconstitutional:
… Throughout the playing (singing) of the National Anthem and/or the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, all students shall stand at respectful attention. During recitation of the “pledge,” each student shall place his/her right hand over his/her heart.
If a student, due to a conscientiously and sincerely held religious belief, feels entitled to an exemption to the requirement to recite the pledge, such student shall still be required to stand.
Everything in bold is illegal. The district can’t force students to do any of those things.
In April, when all of this took place, Lafayette Parish officials said they would take another look at that policy.
And they’re finally going to do it later today:
The proposed new policy states that there would be a designated time at the beginning of each school day for silent meditation and reciting the pledge.
The proposal removes language in the district’s current policy, which requires students to stand for the pledge, even if they do not recite it because of religious beliefs.
In addition, the proposal eliminates the current policy’s language that each school assembly or meeting should start with the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem, and that all students should be encouraged to learn the words to the anthem.
Those are all good proposals the board should adopt immediately. I hope that includes training so that teachers are aware of the law and what students’ rights are in that situation.
Regardless of what happens, Raymond deserves a lot of credit for doing everything right. He knew the law. He knew to contact the AHA with his concerns. And he was willing to go public with his story, no matter the personal cost.
If only more students could be like him.
(Screenshot via KATC. Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)