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Responding to Humanist Group, Illinois School District Lets Student Boycott Pledge of Allegiance

For Immediate Release


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

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

(Blue Island, Ill., Sept. 8, 2016)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center is pleased that a suburban Chicago school district has assured that a student at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Ill., may remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance.

On Tuesday, the American Humanist Association objected to the treatment of the student, Shemar Cooper, who was admonished by both a teacher and administrator for sitting during the school’s Pledge recitation. Despite his mother’s concerns, expressed to school administrators, his teacher continued to reprimand him for sitting during the Pledge, reportedly even going so far as to attempt to pull him out of his chair. Now, Community High School District 218 officials have made written assurances that all staff will be informed of students’ right to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. The school district will annually remind staff of this right. The school district will also investigate and refuse to tolerate threats of bullying directed at Cooper.

“Public schools have the responsibility to uphold students’ right to free speech,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Students should not be threatened or penalized for refusing to recite a Pledge that does not represent them.”

“Moving forward, we expect the school district to take seriously students’ right to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association. “Our Constitution ensures that students for any reason may refrain from participating in the Pledge exercise.”

The American Humanist Association defends the rights of students to choose not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and is leading a national boycott of the Pledge. The US Supreme Court’s 1943 ruling on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette guarantees students the right not to participate in the Pledge recitation. Students may object to the Pledge of Allegiance because its message of “liberty and justice for all” is not realized in marginalized communities, and many students object to the claim that our nation is “under God” because the phrase relegates atheists, humanists and other nontheists to the status of second-class citizens. Through the boycott, the American Humanist Association hopes to have the Pledge of Allegiance restored to its pre-McCarthy Era wording, which did not contain the phrase “under God.” More information about the boycott is available at

The American Humanist Association’s letter can be viewed here, and the school district’s response 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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