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AHLC Admonishes Indiana School for Silencing Teacher on Pledge Rights

For Immediate Release


Patrick Hudson, 202-238-9088,

David Niose, 202-238-9088,

(Indianapolis, IN, July 24, 2017)—The American Humanist Association (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center admonished Indianapolis high school administrators today for mistreating a teacher who informed students that the Pledge of Allegiance is voluntary.

The teacher in question, Duane Nickell, contacted the AHA after he was instructed by the principal of Franklin Central High School to stop informing students that the Pledge of Allegiance was voluntary. Many public school students are unaware of their constitutional right to opt out of the Pledge, a right secured by a 1943 Supreme Court ruling, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

“I had read about teachers forcing students to stand and recite the pledge,” said Nickell, explaining why he thought it was necessary to educate students about the right to opt out. “I wanted to make sure that my students knew that their teacher would support any decision they made regarding the pledge.” Nickell was surprised when the school’s principal, Kevin Koers, called him to his office and warned him against educating students about the voluntary nature of the Pledge exercise.

The AHA has been sponsoring a boycott of the Pledge of Allegiance to protest the insertion of the words “under God,” into the recitation. Those words were added in 1954, during the Cold War, after lobbying by religious groups. Humanists and others see the language as a divisive violation of church-state separation principles. The AHA’s boycott page can be found here.

“Restricting the flow of information is a disservice to the schoolchildren and an insult to the Pledge itself,” said David Niose, Legal Director for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “It’s unfortunate that educators would choose to suppress knowledge rather than enlighten students.”

“The AHA will stand by students who boycott the Pledge and teachers who seek to inform them of the right to do so,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We can’t allow overzealous school officials to violate important constitutional rights.”

The AHA’s warning letter can be found 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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