TRACY, Calif. – A student in the Tracy Unified School District who refused to say the complete Pledge of Allegiance for a speech class assignment was sent to detention and docked points from his grade.
Officials in the Tracy Unified School District issued the punishment to Derek Giardina, a 17-year-old at West High School in central California after he failed to complete his speech class assignment.
Everyone in the speech class is required to lead the school 12 times in the 1954 version of the Pledge of Allegiance, but after reciting the full pledge the first two times, Giardina recently decided to omit “under God” because he’s an atheist, CBS reports.
“Personally I wouldn’t say the pledge at all, because I’m not necessarily very patriotic, and I’m not religious,” Giardina told the news site.
School officials warned him that he must say the pledge correctly to complete the assignment and he would be punished if his omitted words again, but he ignored the warnings and repeated his behavior, CBS reports.
“I think I have a low C now, from doing other speeches, but it is a very large point value,” he said. “There’s something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs.”
“Tracy Unified School District says it respects everyone’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but say if you’re going to lead the school in the pledge, you better say it the traditional way,” CBS reports.
District spokesman Sam Strube said Giardina wasn’t punished for his lack of faith, but rather because he failed to complete an assignment. There were alternative assignments available, but Giardina chose to recite the pledge, Strube said.
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“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,” Strube said. “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.”
Vietnam war veteran and parent John Phillips believes the district made the right decision.
“If you don’t want to say ‘In God’ don’t get up there and recite the pledge, because if you’re going to recite the pledge, recite it correctly,” he told CBS.
Others who spoke with the news station who did not want to be identified supported Giardina.
“I don’t want someone else to have to fight for this,” the student said. “This should be unnecessary.”
Giardina’s parents reportedly support his decision. And while the student will no longer be allowed to lead the school in the pledge, officials are still working to meet with Giardina and his parents to discuss the issue.
CBS reports the California Education Code requires schools to conduct patriotic exercises, “and the pledge fulfills that requirement.”
The issue drew a heated conversation among those who posted about the story.
“’Personally I’m not necessarily very patriotic, and I’m not religious,’ he said. ‘There’s something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs,’ he said. So are you religious or not?” kd002 posted.
He was given an assignment which he did not complete. Grades are based on completed assignments. If he did not want to recite the Pledge, he had an alternative which HE SELECTED not to take advantage of,” MyNewsLogin posted. “Since he did not complete the assignment he selected to complete, his grade should suffer.”
Poster Zanderous clearly believes the school was in the wrong.
“They are a government run public school. They can not force someone to say or do anything that goes against their religious views. His views are that of an agnostic and he does not feel he should have to say Under God in the pledge,” Zanderous wrote. “And he’s right.”
“He CHOSE the assignment; he need not have selected it,” Bill2455 responded. “He made a choice and failed to complete the assignment.”