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April 13, 2004

Atheist Punished For Stance on Separation of Church and State

by Red Wolf

United States: A high school student, in a broadcasting TV assignment sent through the school, said the pledge of allegiance. Being an atheist, he left out our two most favourite words... and was severely punished.

A Spanaway Lake High School senior has been banned from TV production assignments for the rest of the year because he altered the Pledge of Allegiance during a student-produced broadcast.
The student, Kenny Hess, removed the words under God from the pledge, which is shown with an American flag background on classroom TV throughout the school. Hess also declined to recite the phrase and, instead read, one nation ... indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
School officials said they've punished Hess for misusing school equipment to deliver a personal message.
He made a poor choice, said Mark Wenzel, Bethel School District spokesman.
Hess apologized and now wants his broadcasting privileges restored. He's also drawn sympathy from a California physician, who last week argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the words under God should be removed from the pledge because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
Good for him, said Michael Newdow.
Every day, students at Spanaway Lake and other schools across the state begin their day by reciting the pledge, as required by state law.
Hess, an avowed atheist since sixth grade, thinks he's forced to listen to a religious statement when he hears the pledge. Last week, his world current events class debated Newdow's case. After one student said, Christians are forcing us to listen to this, Hess vowed that he could make students not listen to the words. The phrase under God was added to the pledge by congressional vote in 1954, during the Cold War.
I took it out to prove we don't have to hear it, Hess said.
On Tuesday, several Spanaway Lake students and teachers complained after hearing the altered pledge.
On Wednesday, school officials told Hess he would be permitted only to read books during his broadcasting class.
Hess, 18, plans a career in broadcasting and wants to finish his assignments.
I want my privileges back, he said. It's not right to take them away.
School officials said Hess should have chosen to write an article for the school paper or produce an opinion piece for the school newscast.
Administrators said Hess' actions put the school out of sync with state law, though lawyers note that there is no criminal or civil penalty for not saying the pledge. State law allows students to remain silent during the pledge.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that under God is unconstitutional. But that ruling is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the matter.
Our interpretation as a school district is that the law says we say the pledge, said Greg Eisnaugle, Spanaway Lake principal. 'Under God' is still in it. If the court says it comes out, that's what we'll do.
The 9th Circuit Court ruling raises legal issues, said Stewart Jay, a University of Washington constitutional law professor.
If I were this kid's lawyer, I'd argue that he was asked to do something illegal, he said. Accordingly, he can't be disciplined.
Newdow thinks Hess was upholding the constitution, which bars the government from involving itself in religion.
It's incredible he would be penalized for this, Newdow said.
Hess has drawn sympathy from the Humanists of Washington, whose membership is composed largely of atheists.
Good grief, this is severe, said Barbara Dority, HOW president. This could have been used as a learning experience. It's too bad that the adults in this situation reacted as they did.
Hess on Thursday sat in class but refused to read books until his punishment is reconsidered by school officials.
I told them I wasn't going to read anything until I talk to the principal, he said.

Student takes 'under God' out of pledge, feels the heat - News Tribune, 2nd April 2004 (via morons.org).

Posted in Church and State at 02:14. Last modified on September 28 2006 at 23:42.
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