A teacher from Florida has been suspended without pay for forcing a Jehovah’s Witness fourth-grader to take part in the oath of allegiance.
The incident took place on September 11, when the boy’s teacher asked his class to salute the flag on the 12-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When the boy refused to participate, teacher Anne Daigle-McDonald is said to have taken his wrist and placed it over his heart.
When the boy protested and pulled his arm down, the teacher is quoted to have said, “You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses take political neutrality extremely seriously, and as such would find any such behavior offensive. Indeed, following an enquiry into the teacher’s conduct by the school district, it was found that Daigle-McDonald “violated a number of state education rules, professional conduct principles and the student’s right to free speech and freedom of religion.”
Daigle-McDonald has thus received a five-day suspension from work without pay. She has also been issued a formal letter of reprimand, and instructed to attend diversity training.
Is this teacher’s punishment fair?
Everyone will have their own opinions, depending on their religious or political views, as to whether Daigle-McDonald’s punishment fits her crime. Indeed, some extremely patriotic Americans might argue that no crime was committed at all.
I would argue that, though losing pay over this seems quite harsh, it was right for this teacher to receive some kind of disciplinary action without losing her job. Why do I say this?
I grew up as a Witness myself, and can remember only too well being involved in a similar incident with a teacher when I was only about seven years old.
On the day in question, my teacher asked my class to take part in coloring in a poster advertizing the school’s upcoming Christmas Fair. I knew instantly that I wasn’t allowed to do this as a Witness, and that my parents would be unhappy if I were to participate in something that promoted what I understood to be a pagan celebration.
When I respectfully told my teacher that I couldn’t do it, she stood me infront of the entire class saying, “[John] doesn’t want to help the school!” As punishment, I was made to stand outside in the winter by myself, in a courtyard overlooked by my schoolmates.
When I came home and told my parents, they were infuriated. They drove to the school to take the matter up with the teacher. I can’t remember whether an apology was given, but I certainly remember this story being proudly told countless times thereafter as an example of me standing up for my beliefs in the face of persecution.
My point in relating this experience is that the harsh punishment by my teacher only fed into my developing persecution complex, and strengthened my identity as a Jehovah’s Witness. Any kind of arbitrary punishment or belittling behavior by non-Witnesses, whether school teachers or co-workers in later life, only feeds into a Witness’ persecution complex and strengthens Watchtower’s influence by vindicating the organization’s suggestions that “worldly” people are cruel and intolerant.
So I applaud the fact that the teacher in this case received corrective discipline for a direct infringement of this boy’s free speech and freedom of religion, but I am relieved that she did not lose her job over such a relatively trivial matter. After all, in the end, nobody was hurt.
Picture credit: the main article picture is taken from the book Revelation – It’s Grand Climax At Hand, page 196.