An atheist legal firm is defending a student who claims that he was given both detention and a failing grade for refusing to include the words "under God" in a recent reading of the Pledge of Allegiance over his school's PA system.
The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center fired off a letter to the Tracy Unified School District in Tracy, California, Tuesday, claiming that officials at Merrill F. West High School violated Derek Giardina's First Amendment rights.
Giardina, an agnostic, objects to the words "under God," which he did not include in a recent recitation he delivered over the school speaker system as part of a speech class.
According to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, he was subsequently unfairly punished with a failing grade and detention and was reportedly told that these words are required by law when stating the Pledge.
"I think I have a low C now, from doing other speeches, but it is a very large point value," Giardina recently told KOVR-TV. "There’s something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs."
And the Appignani Humanist Legal Center agrees.
"Disciplining an agnostic student for exercising his rights is discrimination," Roy Speckhardt, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "Including ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance marginalizes the millions of patriotic Americans who are agnostic, atheist, humanist or otherwise good without a god."
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The law firm is demanding that the school recalculate his grade — currently only a 50 out of a possible 100 points — and remove the infraction from his school record, asking for a response within the next seven days.
In light of the facts presented by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the letter proclaims that "to punish him and dock his grade for is wholly unfair and an offense to his constitutional rights."
But the school has reportedly defended itself, noting that the assignment was to state the Pledge as it is written and that there was an alternative option available to students.
As TheBlaze previously reported, the atheist group is also responsible for the “Don’t Say the Pledge” campaign, which encourages Americans to refuse to recite the Pledge until God’s name is removed.
Similar stories to Giardina's have emerged of late, with the American Humanist Association representing numerous children and teens who claim to have been punished for refusing to recite the Pledge.
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These cases appear to be a part of the atheist organization’s strategy in implementing its “Don’t Say the Pledge” campaign.
David Niose, the American Humanist Association’s legal director, said in a statement earlier this year that public schools are “stigmatizing atheist and humanist children” by facilitating the daily recitation of the Pledge.
“[It] violates the principles of equal rights and nondiscrimination,” he said of the daily recitation.
The group’s main contention is that “under God” was not added to the Pledge until 1954 and that the original version, composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, did not reference the Lord. They advocate for a return to the more secular version.
Read more about the Pledge’s history here.
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