TRACY (CBS13) — A Tracy high-school student is in hot water after omitting the words "under God" from his reading of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Derek Giardina, 17, says he's been given detention and docked points after omitting the reference to God, and the school district is standing by its decision.
Tracy Unified School District says it respects everyone's religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but say if you're going to lead the school in the pledge, you better say it in the traditional way.
Giardina says he went along with his speech and debate class assignment to lead West High School in the pledge.
"Personally I wouldn't say the pledge at all, because I'm not necessarily very patriotic, and I'm not religious," he said.
Everyone in the class is required to do it 12 times a year. He read the 1954 version his first two times. But on his third he felt it necessary to remove the line "under god" from his reading, simply skipping over it and reciting the pledge as it was before the 1954 amendment during the Cold War.
Giardina says he's agnostic, but then learned his grade had been docked.
"I think I have a low C now, from doing other speeches, but it is a very large point value," he said.
He says he was warned if he omitted the phrase again, he'd be in trouble. He did, and now he has detention.
"There's something disciplinary happening because of my religious beliefs," he said.
District spokesman Sam Strube says while school leaders respect all students' rights not to say the pledge, Giardina was disciplined because the reading was an assignment.
"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," he said.
Strube says if students didn't want to do the assignment, there was an alternative offered.
"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," he said.
Giardina's decision has gotten around town.
"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," said Vietnam veteran and high-school parent John Phillips.
But other students CBS13 spoke to off camera support Giardina.
He says his fight will go on.
"I don't want someone else to have to fight for this; this should be unnecessary," he said.
He's been told that he will no longer be able to do announcements. District leaders hope they can have a conversation with him and his parents, who also support him in his decision.
The Supreme Court has ruled students do not have to participate in reciting it, but it is not a violation for it to be led in schools. In fact, the California Education Code requires patriotic exercises, and the pledge fulfills that requirement.
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