Carlisle, Penn. – In a blatant violation of an eighth grade student’s constitutional rights, a school nurse at Wilson Middle School refused to provide care for a student. The care was denied after the student, who was seated in the nurse’s office awaiting treatment, exercised her right to not stand as the Pledge of Allegiance was played over the school’s intercom.
The student, upset about having her constitutional rights summarily violated, contacted the American Humanist Association (AHA). In a letter sent to the school district, the AHA Appignani Humanist Legal Center wrote:
As you should know, the right of students to opt out of Pledge participation was settled long ago by the United States Supreme Court in West Virginia Bd. Of Educ. V. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). Consequently, any actions by your school infringing upon that right would be actionable as a serious constitutional violation.
For personal reasons, the student in question, does not wish to participate in the exercise in any manner. On Thursday, April 2, she happened to be at the nurse’s office when the school’s Pledge of Allegiance took place. The school nurse ordered everyone present to stand up, but this student remained seated as she typically does.
She reports that subsequently, when it was her turn to be seen by the nurse, the nurse asked loudly, “Why didn’t you stand for the Pledge?” The student replied that the Pledge exercise is voluntary and that no explanation for opting out was needed. Shockingly, the nurse responded by ordering her out of the room, yelling, “Fine! Then leave! I have the right to not service you!”
The disturbing outburst by the school’s nurse left the child in tears. In an effort to call her mom, the student left the nurse’s office to go to the administrative offices. A secretary assisted the girl to an office when the nurse reappeared stating, “She isn’t calling a parent until I have a long conversation with her!”
David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, in reference to the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, said, “The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that public school students have the unequivocal right to opt out of participation the Pledge of Allegiance exercise. There is no excuse for a school staff member to humiliate and bully a student who chooses to exercise this right, and the nurse’s refusal to service the student is particularly egregious.”
The document from the AHA goes on to state:
At this point a school counselor arrived and took the student to his office, where the student remained for two class periods. Though he showed some sympathy, he also incorrectly instructed the student that she should stand in the hallway if she does not wish to stand for the pledge exercise! The student politely tried to explain that she is under no obligation to stand in the hallway as such, to which the counselor replied that it was “district policy,” apparently unaware that “district policy” does not trump federal law.
The letter demands that all students and staff in the district be advised that students may remain seated during the Pledge recitation. Additionally they want all staff to be instructed that they must not, under any circumstances attempt to persuade students to refrain from exercising their right to opt out of the Pledge. Nor can they characterize doing so as wrongful, and that no student should be disciplined for exercising this right. The letter also demands that the school offer a written apology to the student.
Monica Miller of the AHA made an extremely accurate assessment of the situation when stating,
“The actions of the nurse are indefensible, as she provides an example of the kind of overzealous, dangerous patriotism that any true patriot would loathe. The student was left angry and scarred by this mean-spirited hostility, which is only made worse by the fact that it came from a person trusted with the health and well-being of students. Moreover, the nurse’s refusal to give the child medical attention calls into question her fitness for the job.”
For this child to be treated in such a demeaning way, for simply exercising an affirmed constitutional right, is shocking to the conscience. No one should ever be forced into mandatory displays of allegiance, to any state, nor God.
If you think that the government has no business denying individuals their freedom to exercise their own religious beliefs or lack thereof, and indoctrinating kids into nationalist/religious endeavors, please share this with a friend.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.