Anne Daigle-McDonald grabbed the boy's hand and placed it over his heart, allegedly saying 'If you don't want to do that, you should move out of the country.' The Hernando County school district later suspended her for violating the student's right to free exercise of religion.
'You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag,' Anne Daigle McDonald told her class of fourth graders at the Explorer K-8 School.
A Florida teacher told her fourth grade student to pledge allegiance to the flag...or else.
Hernando County school teacher Anne Daigle-McDonald has been suspended without pay after grabbing a student's wrist, placing it over his heart, and forcing him to recite the Pledge.
The boy, a Jehovah's Witness, reminded the teacher that his religion doesn't allow him to worship objects. He stood up out of respect for his country, but he didn't want to put his hand over his heart.
"You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag," Daigle-McDonald reportedly said, according to a statement the boy gave the Explorer K-8 school.
The first incident happened on Sept. 11, the 12-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The next day, Daigle-McDonald noticed that the boy hadn't changed his habits. That's when she decided to turn the incident into a lesson for all her young students.
She yanked the boy's hand over his heart and then told the entire class, "In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can't do the pledge."
She continued, "If you don't want to say the pledge, you still have to put your hand on your heart and if you don't want to do that, you should move out of the country."
Students pledging allegiance to the American flag with the Bellamy salute. It was replaced with today's 'hand-over-heart' salute during World War II, since it looked similar to the gesture used by Adolf Hitler's Nazis.
After hearing about the teacher's actions, the Hernando County School Board interviewed several of the boy's classmates, who corroborated his story.
Officials at the school district recently concluded that the teacher had overstepped her bounds by taking away the student's right to free speech and freedom of religion, which are both protected by the First Amendment. On top of that, Daigle-McDonald was accused of violating professional conduct protocol and state education rules.
"She touched a child and that is no-no," grandparent Donna Walker told WTSP. "She should not be teaching here. She should not be teaching children."
Daigle-McDonald was in fact removed from student contact and given an alternative school job on Sept. 12. She was also suspended for five days without pay and ordered to undergo diversity training.
During the investigation, the teacher defended herself by saying that the boy's mother had never explained that she didn't want her child to say the pledge.
"His mother told me that he didn't celebrate holidays or birthdays, and I told her that was fine," the teacher said.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower added 'under God' to the Pledge during the anti-communist movement of the 1950s.
Instead of standing up, the boy had taken to doodling during the pledge, the teacher said. Daigle-McDonald explained that she didn't want other students to start imitating the boy, especially on Sept. 11.
"(I) just wanted all of the students to respect the day," she said. "It wasn't a holiday, so I didn't see why the whole class couldn't say the pledge."
But students' right to opt out of the pledge has been recognized as a form of free speech for decades. The Supreme Court confirmed this right back in 1943, with the case West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette.
The Pledge of Allegiance was originally written in the late nineteenth century by Francis Bellamy, a pastor who was kicked out of the Baptist church for his socialist leanings. Bellamy instructed citizens to start the Pledge off with a military salute and then extend their hands outward towards the flag, reports. But this gesture was discarded during World War II, since it closely resembled the Nazis' salute.
The Pledge became popular during the era of anti-communism, as a way to celebrate loyalty to the American flag and way of life.
It seems Daigle-McDonald still believes that refusing to say the pledge is like refusing to be a good citizen.
"It was directed at citizenship," Daigle-McDonald said during the investigation. "I was talking about pledging allegiance to our country, and if you don't want to pledge to our country, you should go to your home country."