In Indiana, a public high school is under heavy criticism for disciplining a teacher who in 2016 instructed students they were not required to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Franklin High School teacher Duane Nickell, who has retired, instructed his students in 2016 they could reject reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The school’s principal, Kevin Koers, told Nickell parents had complained about his comments and that parents and students should be the ones to discuss the matter, not teachers.
“His statement to me was that it was not my place to say that,” Nickell said in an interview to the Indianapolis Star. “He said it was the parent or student’s place.” The former educator claims he never discussed his own views of the Pledge with students, though Nickell is indeed atheist and objects the symbolism of the pledge. He claims he merely told them what they should or shouldn’t do, and only what their rights are. Nickell is peddling the notion that he exhibited his rights by informing students of their own constitutional rights.
A number of court cases have affirmed students cannot be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance, including West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, a 1943 case that also found students cannot be forced to salute the American flag.
The American Humanist Association, an organization that supports atheists and agnostics, supports Nickell’s case. AHA sent a letter to Franklin Central High School threatening an impending lawsuit if they don’t correct the policy of allowing teachers to direct students on their rights to participate without retaliation:
“This scenario is problematic on many levels, not least of which that it is plainly dishonest toward the students who entrust school officials with their education. Moreover, to take this stance toward Pledge nonparticipation implies negative assumptions about those who respectfully opt out, when in fact there are numerous legitimate reasons for choosing to sit out the exercise. To cast a cloud of negativity toward opting out, or to equate participation in the exercise with actual patriotism, is to misunderstand the very notion of good citizenship.”
Indiana, the home state to Vice President Mike Pence, previously experienced a number of Pledge-related controversies in recent years.
In June, an Indiana parent sued her local elementary school for allegedly forcing a 7-year-old boy to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
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