The American Humanist Association has taken aim this week at a school that reprimanded a teacher for telling his students that saying the Pledge of Allegiance was optional, according to USA Today.
Duane Nickell, a now-retired physics teacher, made the statement to his class on the first day of school at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis in 2016.
"I just wanted them to feel comfortable if they didn't want to say it. That's OK with me," Nickell said in the USA Today report.
The school's principal, Kevin Koers, told Nickell he was out of line, the teacher said.
"His statement to me was that it was not my place to say that. He said it was the parent or student's place," Nickell said, according to USA Today.
The AHA, an educational organization and advocate for atheists, agnostics, and religious minorities, called on the school to let teachers tell students about their rights to free speech, according to a letter from the organization.
"Dr. Nickell should be commended, not reprimanded, for taking the time to inform students about their rights in an objective, nonjudgmental manner," the organization said in the letter.
The association said in the letter that it would provide legal help to teachers if the school takes a similar action again.
Nickell said he did not discuss his personal opinion with the students.
"I did not use that occasion to expound on my personal opinions on the pledge. All I said was that it's voluntary," Nickell added.
The former teacher said he reached out to the AHA last year after the incident, but asked them to wait to send the letter because he feared he would lose his job, according to USA Today.
He contacted the organization again after he retired.
"Even after a year, I just find it outrageous that a school principal doesn't want the students to know their rights," Nickell said in the USA Today report.
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