Derek Giardina, a 17-year-old student at West High School in Tracy, California said he has been given detention and his grade was lowered for omitting “under God” after reading the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to reports by CBS 13 in Sacramento, all speech and debate students are expected to lead the high school in the Pledge of Allegiance 12 times throughout the year. This assignment is part of their grade.
Giardina, who is agnostic, omitted the phrase “under God” while reading the 1954 version of the Pledge of Allegiance.
He decided to lead the pledge because it’s a class requirement. But left to him, he wouldn’t say those words at all.
“Personally I wouldn’t say the pledge at all, because I’m not necessarily very patriotic, and I’m not religious,” Giardina explained. He admitted to receiving warnings earlier after omitting the phrase “under God” but still thinks he shouldn’t be punished. “There’s something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs,” he said. He soon found out his grade had been docked.
Sam Strube, spokesman for Tracy Unified School District, said the school respects the rights of every student for not reciting the pledge, but Giardina got disciplinary actions because it’s a class requirement.
“A public forum where you’re going to represent the school is not a place where you can voice a controversial issue and force that on other people,” he said. Strube also added that if any student wishes not to lead the pledge, an alternative is offered.
"Students are given that choice, and so if you're representing the school and you're reading the announcements to the class, you can be graded on how well you read the announcements," Strube said.
However, the American Humanist Association’ Legal center has sent a letter to the high school defending Giardina. “Disciplining an agnostic student for exercising his rights is discrimination,” Roy Speckhardt, the firm’s executive director, said in a statement. The legal firm said the school’s officials violated his constitutional rights and he was also unfairly punished. They are demanding that the school reverses the disciplinary action.