A public high school in Indiana has been criticized for disciplining a teacher who in 2016 instructed students they need not say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Now-retired Franklin High School teacher Duane Nickell instructed his students in 2016 they were not required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, drawing the ire of the school’s principal, Kevin Koers. Koers told Nickell that 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, according to a report by the Indianapolis Star. "He said it was the parent or student's place."
Nickell claims he never discussed his own views of the Pledge with students or told them what they should or shouldn't do, only what their rights are.
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.
Nickell, an atheist who objects to the Pledge, says he exercised his rights by informing students of their own constitutional rights, a view the American Humanist Association — which supports atheists and agnostics — backs.
AHA said in a statement Franklin Central High School must change its policy about teachers telling students about their right to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or else they will assist teachers in suing the school.
“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,” the AHA wrote in its letter to Franklin Central. “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 has had 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. The lawsuit claims when the boy refused, the boy was sent to the principal’s office and forced to “practice” the Pledge, WGBA-TV reported in June.