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Texas Teacher Who Harassed Nonreligious Student Loses Appeal

Houston, TX—Today, the church-state watchdog American Atheists announced yet another victory in its lawsuit on behalf of a nonreligious student whose teacher harassed, disciplined, and retaliated against her for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance.

In June, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant Houston-suburb teacher, Benjie Arnold, qualified immunity. Arnold then petitioned for a rehearing. Yesterday, by a vote of 10-7, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals rejected Arnold’s request.

According to the student, she exercised her First Amendment right to not participate in the Pledge because of her objection to the inclusion of the words, “Under God,” and her belief that the United States fails to guarantee “liberty and justice for all,” especially for people of color.

“This is an important victory for nonreligious Americans’—and all Americans’—freedom of speech,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, American Atheists’ Litigation Counsel. “The classroom is not a pulpit. It is a place of education, not indoctrination. No student should be punished for exercising her First Amendment rights.”

“Mr. Arnold should have been teaching students about American freedom, not American intolerance,” said the student’s civil rights lawyer, Randall Kallinen, who is serving as local counsel in the case. “A student’s right to peaceful freedom of expression does not end at the schoolhouse steps.”

“This decision by the Fifth Circuit affirms what we’ve said all along: teachers who trample the constitutional rights of their students will be held accountable,” added Blackwell.

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