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Humanist Group Defends Illinois Student Reprimanded for Sitting Out Pledge of Allegiance

For Immediate Release


Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105,

David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119,

(Blue Island, IL, Sept. 6, 2016)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center defends the right of Dwight D. Eisenhower High School student Shemar Cooper in Blue Island, Ill., to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Cooper’s mother contacted the American Humanist Association after her son was twice instructed to stand during the Pledge exercise by a teacher, Ms. Alfano. After the first incident, the student’s mother informed the teacher that students could not be required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. However, when Cooper again exercised his right to opt out of the Pledge, his teacher reportedly attempted to pull him out of his chair to force him to stand. School administrators also accused him of being disrespectful to US military. The American Humanist Association’s legal center demands that the school district instruct students and teachers that all students have the right not to participate in the Pledge and that teachers must not dissuade students from exercising that right. The legal center also insists the school district not discipline students who opt out of the Pledge and that Ms. Alfano must apologize to Cooper.

“Students who stand up for their rights by sitting down for the Pledge of Allegiance deserve our respect,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “They consider the meaning of the Pledge rather than reciting it automatically, demonstrating the critical thinking that schools should encourage.”

“Students have long had the right to opt out of participation in the Pledge of Allegiance,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, in reference to the US Supreme Court’s 1943 ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “Public schools must uphold students’ freedom of speech, which includes sitting during the Pledge.”

The American Humanist Association is currently leading a national boycott of the Pledge of Allegiance to educate students about their right not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Many students object to the Pledge because its claims of “liberty and justice for all” are not realized in American society and because the words “under God” in the Pledge marginalize atheists, humanists and other nontheists as unpatriotic. More information about the Pledge of Allegiance boycott can be found at

The American Humanist Association’s demand letter can be viewed here.


Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

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