June 27, 2022



Houston area student wins $90,000 settlement after being bullied by teacher for not standing for Pledge of Allegiance

2 min read

A Houston area student who was allegedly harassed and bullied by her teachers for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance has won a $90,000 settlement, according to the civil rights organization American Atheists. 

The Texas Association of School Boards paid to resolve the case after the Klein Oak High School student’s 12th-grade sociology teacher agreed to settle before things went to trial, the organization announced in a Tuesday news release, which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Rebecca Hennes. 

In the 2017 suit, the nonreligious student says she was discriminated against and harassed by several teachers after choosing to abstain from saying the pledge out of objection to the words “Under God” and her belief that “liberty and justice for all” is not guaranteed for people of color in the U.S.

Despite knowing that the student was exempt from the pledge, the teacher, identified in the suit as Benjie Arnold, singled out the student and threatened to fail her for not observing the pledge. According to the release, Arnold told the student that what she did left him “no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want.”

Arnold also offered to pay students to move students to Europe if they didn’t like living in America, as evidenced by an audio recording of the incident. Due to the incessant harassment, the student temporarily withdrew to be homeschooled. However, the harassment continued and intensified when she returned to Klein Oak, the release said. 

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Geoffrey T. Blackwell, litigation counsel at American Atheists, said the settlement serves as a reminder that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they step onto school grounds. “The classroom is not a pulpit,” he said. “It is a place of education, not indoctrination.”

Houston civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen, who worked in partnership with Blackwell, said in the release, “It is incredible—the time and money spent by the Klein Independent School District to stop a student’s free speech. School staff need to teach the Constitution, not violate it.”

Arnold is still a teacher at Klein Oak High School, according to Courthouse News Service, and celebrated 50 years with the district in 2020.


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