A “non-religious” student in Texas has won a $90,000 court settlement after she allegedly was harassed by a teacher for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The group American Atheists sued Klein Oak High School near Houston after a student claimed that a 12th-grade sociology teacher punished her for not reciting the pledge, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The atheist group said the girl refused to join the exercise because she disagreed with the phrases “liberty and justice for all” and “under God.” It said the girl is an atheist who believes black people and other minorities are not guaranteed justice in the United States.
The Texas Association of School Boards settled the group’s lawsuit for $90,000, the Chronicle reported Tuesday.
“Nonreligious students often face bullying or harassment for expressing their deeply held convictions,” Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, said in a statement. “No one should have to endure the years of harassment, disrespect, and bullying our client faced.
“The fact that this happened in a public school and at the hands of staff who should know better is particularly appalling. After nearly five years of litigation, the defendant finally made the only smart decision and agreed to settle this case.”
The girl has consistently refused to recite the pledge during her years in school, the group said, but one teacher insisted on singling her out in class and harassing her over her decision — a right she has under Texas law.
American Atheists claimed the teacher tried to force the girl to write down the pledge as an assignment. According to the group, when she refused, the teacher — identified as Benjie Arnold — told her, “What you’ve done is leave me no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want.”
In its lawsuit, the group said a recording contained audio of the teacher telling the class that those who don’t like the United States should move to Europe.
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Geoffrey T. Blackwell, litigation counsel for American Atheists, blasted Arnold, saying, “The classroom is not a pulpit. It is a place of education, not indoctrination.”
“This settlement serves as a reminder that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the classroom,” Blackwell said, according to the Chronicle.
Texas civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen also said the settlement is a reminder that kids don’t lose their First Amendment rights “when they enter the classroom.”
“It is incredible — the time and money spent by the Klein Independent School District to stop a student’s free speech,” Kallinen said. “School staff need to teach the Constitution, not violate it.”
According to the report, the teacher is still employed by the school district and in 2020 celebrated 50 years as an educator.
While conservatives rightfully celebrate the decisions of schools to offer children the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or even a time to pray, it is incumbent on us all to remember that Americans also have the freedom to refrain from those activities.
America is certainly a nation based on Judeo-Christian ideals, but our Founders wisely crafted a national ethos that did not impose any particular religious ideal on our citizens. We are all free to choose — or not choose — a religious affiliation.
As parents, we should raise our children to respect the U.S. and to feel proud to recite our Pledge of Allegiance. But if, for whatever reason, they sincerely don’t agree with such sentiment, that must also be respected.
Our educators must tread a fine line, teaching children that America is the greatest nation on earth while not harassing children to denounce their personal ideals.
They might grow out of their childish ideas of anti-Americanism. But if they don’t, that is also their right. And schools must respect that.