Despite advice from legal counsel that its policy requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance — regardless of whether they join in its recitation — is unenforceable and unconstitutional, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted 8-1 Wednesday to keep the policy on the books. The policy review came a few months after the legal arm of the American Humanist Association contacted Superintendent Donald Aguillard to express concerns over the alleged harassment of an Acadiana High student by his teacher after the student, an atheist, declined to stand for the pledge.
Despite voting with the majority, board member Tehmi Chassion observed the obvious leading up to the vote, according to an Associated Press account: “When the kid decides not to stand, we can’t punish that kid,” Chassion said. “Do I want them to stand? Yes, I want them to stand. I want them to recite it proudly. But no principal, or anyone, can discipline a kid for not standing. That’s the law from the land.”
The policy at this point is purely symbolic.
The lone dissenting board member, Dawn Morrison, noted ahead of the vote what is evidently less obvious to fellow board members: “One of the things our military fights for is the United States Constitution,” she said. “While many of us have personal beliefs, we have to look at the core of what our country is based on.”
The AHA issued a press release at 8 a.m. Thursday criticizing Wednesday’s vote.
“Students have a First Amendment right to refrain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance exercise,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, in reference to the 1943 ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “The school district had the opportunity to reflect this settled law in its policy but instead chose to continue unjustly requiring students who object to the words ‘under God’ to stand for the Pledge.”
The AHA notes in the press release that it’s promoting a national boycott of the Pledge of Allegiance “to encourage students who object to the ‘under God’ wording of the Pledge to exercise their right to remain seated during its recitation. The American Humanist Association has advocated for the removal of ‘under God’ from the Pledge because the phrase, added in 1954 during the McCarthy Era, conflates patriotism and belief in a god, encouraging prejudice against atheists and humanists.”
We now brace ourselves for the “why don’t you go live in Russia?” comments on social media.