Sometime during the last school year, Duane Nickell, a science teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indiana, told his students that they didn’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance if they didn’t want to. It was optional. And he’s right. The Supreme Court said as much in 1943. You don’t have to stand up for it and you don’t have to say it.
This should have been a non-controversial issue fully supported by the administration. After all, there are atheists who don’t say the Pledge because of the words “under God,” Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t say the Pledge for religious reasons, and many students who don’t say the Pledge because they don’t want to give blind allegiance to a country that harms people around the world (not to mention all the ways it mistreats various groups within its borders).
But Nickell was reprimanded for stating the truth and told he shouldn’t have said anything, according to the American Humanist Association (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center. In a letter sent to Principal Kevin Koers, the AHA notes that Nickell wasn’t breaking any rules.
“I had read about teachers forcing students to stand and recite the pledge,” said Nickell, explaining why he thought it was necessary to educate students about the right to opt out. “I wanted to make sure that my students knew that their teacher would support any decision they made regarding the pledge.” Nickell was surprised when the school’s principal, Kevin Koers, called him to his office and warned him against educating students about the voluntary nature of the Pledge exercise.
“Restricting the flow of information is a disservice to the schoolchildren and an insult to the Pledge itself,” said David Niose, Legal Director for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “It’s unfortunate that educators would choose to suppress knowledge rather than enlighten students.”
“The AHA will stand by students who boycott the Pledge and teachers who seek to inform them of the right to do so,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We can’t allow overzealous school officials to violate important constitutional rights.”
The only reason Nickell is speaking out now, instead of when it happened, is because he’s no longer working at the school. (It’s unclear if he left voluntary or was let go by the school.) There’s no lawsuit here. The AHA isn’t asking for money. They just want an assurance that Koers will never do this again.
We are hopeful that you will reconsider your position toward Pledge nonparticipation and your treatment of Dr. Nickell. Should we be informed that this kind of action is taken again toward any teachers who wish to inform students of their rights regarding Pledge participation, we will make our legal center available to assist with their defense.
Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all. It’s appalling that any administrator would be frustrated with a teacher who told students something they should have already known. If anything, the school ought to be telling students on Day One that they don’t have to participate in the ritual. It shouldn’t be the job of a teacher to remind students of their rights.
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