Indianapolis High School Teacher Reprimanded for Telling Students the Pledge of Allegiance Is Optional

By Parks, Deborah, Photographer (NARA record: 8467939) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Parks, Deborah, Photographer (NARA record: 8467939) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Pillow

Are displays of patriotism really required in school? That debate is currently ongoing in a local high school after a local physics teacher at Franklin Central High School, Duane Nickell, informed his class that saying the Pledge of Allegiance was optional.

After telling the students that the pledge was optional Nickell says that he was called in to the principal’s office and reprimanded for his statement. According to the principal, parents had called to complain about Nickell’s choice. He was told although the pledge is optional, parents and students should decide rather they should say the pledge on their own. Nickell maintains that simply informing them of their rights is not binding them in any way.

For what it is worth, the Supreme Court has already weighed in on the debate. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette holds that “The Free Speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits public schools from forcing students to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

It is this fact that led the American Humanist Association to send a letter to Franklin Central on behalf of Nickell:

“Dr. Nickell’s statement, as you surely know, is fully accurate, as the Supreme Court long ago ruled that public school students have a free speech right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance exercise. West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).  With the exercise occurring daily and many students not knowing that participation is voluntary, Dr. Nickell was doing exactly what a good teacher should do: informing and educating students about an exercise that would be occurring each day in his classroom.
 Nevertheless, perhaps as proof of the old maxim that no good deed goes unpunished, Dr. Nickell was subsequently called down to your office and reprimanded for his actions. He was told, surprisingly, that he should not inform his students that the Pledge of Allegiance is voluntary. This would seem to suggest that the school is affirmatively choosing to deceive students, apparently believing that the community is best served if children make their way through thirteen years of public schooling with the false understanding that Pledge participation is mandatory and that nonparticipation is offensive.”

Different people have differing reasons for not wanting to say the pledge. In this case the “under God” portion of the recitation appears to be one of the main gripes. Nickell is an atheist and the American Humanists Association typically represents atheists, and agnostics and religious minorities.

Read more here. (Indy Star)

Read the full from the AHA here.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.