A high school student has been punished for omitting “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Derek Giardina, 17, a student at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California, was given detention and points were deducted from his grade after he omitted saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Tracy Unified School district said they respect every student's religious beliefs, but if a student is going to lead the school in the pledge, as Giardina did, it must be said in the traditional way, reports CBS13.
Giardina recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the school as assigned by his speech and debate class.
“Personally I wouldn’t say the pledge at all, because I’m not necessarily very patriotic, and I’m not religious,” Giardina said.
Every student in the class is required to perform the assignment 12 times a year. The first two times Giardina recited the pledge he used the 1954 version.
In 1954, President Eisenhower passed a bill that added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.
"From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty .... In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war,” Eisenhower said in a speech following the passing of the legislation.
It was Giardina's third recital where he decided to remove the line “under God” by skipping over it and reciting the pledge as it was before the 1954 amendment. The school did not approve of his decision.
For agnostic citizens, like Giardina, reciting the phrase “under God” is an area of contention. In Giardina's case, it has resulted in a lower grade in his speech and debate class, as well as detention.
"I think I have a low C now, from doing other speeches, but it is a very large point value,” Giardina said.
School officials warned Giardina that if he omitted the phrase again he would be in trouble. He did, and was given detention as punishment.
“There’s something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs,” Giardina said.
District spokesman Sam Strube said Giardina was punished because he neglected to perform the required class assignment, and that it had nothing to do with his personal religious beliefs.
“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.
Strube claims an alternative assignment was offered to students who did not want to perform the pledge.
“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.
Giardina knew there was an alternate assignment, but was concerned over how he would be graded.
“I felt like she wouldn’t grade me properly,” Giardina said. He also noted that reading the announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance was a “more objective way to earn a good grade.”
Patheos reports that Giardina is not the only student in the speech and debate class who has been punished for omitting “under God.”
Adrianna Teboe did not say “under God” when she completed the assignment, and her grade was marked down as a result.
Students have shown support for Giardina, while one Vietnam veteran and high-school parent does not.
“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,” John Phillips said.
Giardina is no longer allowed to do school announcements. He plans to continue to fight the school’s policy.