A 14-year-old student in Waterbury, Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit against her teacher and the school board for the teacher’s mocking behavior, which started after she chose to sit for the Pledge of Allegiance to protest racial discrimination. The plaintiff is seeking not only an injunction to allow her to sit for the pledge, but also damages.
Sitting for Pledge — a Peaceful and Nondisruptive Protest
According to the lawsuit, the student, along with others, chose to sit for the Pledge in her Italian language class at the Waterbury Arts Magnet School as part of a “peaceful and nondisruptive” protest. Soon thereafter, the teacher praised those who stood, and then brought in another teacher to speak to the students about their “supposed lack of patriotism.” These actions, the student’s attorney claims, violates First Amendment rights. The student further claims that she has been “frightened and intimidated” by the teacher’s retaliatory actions, and as a result, has experienced anxiety and emotional distress.
Legal Rights of Students and the Pledge
The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that public school students need not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, since free speech also includes the right not to speak. Students are also allowed to express their opinion, so long as it isn’t too disruptive. The Supreme Court has never specifically ruled on whether students have the right to sit during the Pledge, but federal appellate courts have agreed that public schools may not force students to stand. Indeed, as far back as 1973, the 2nd Circuit, which includes Connecticut, ruled that standing the during the pledge “is an unconstitutional requirement that the student engage in a form of speech” and that silent non-disruptive expression of belief during the Pledge is constitutionally protected.
Opting Out of the Pledge
Sitting, or kneeling, during the pledge has become a hot topic in America, not only due to Colin Kaepernick, but also a case heating up in Texas: Kizzy Landry vs Cypress Fairbanks ISD. In the Landry case, Texas Attorney General Randall Kallinen recently intervened, in hopes of supporting a Texas laws that makes students recite the pledge, or get a permission slip from parents if they wish to opt out. According to Kallinen, “Before this case, never one time did I hear of any school forcing kids to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” citing thousands of requests for assistance in his career. “Then, in two weeks, I had three calls.”
If you believe that your child is being forced to unconstitutionally recite, or stand, for the Pledge of Allegiance, or is experiencing any other denial of free speech, contact a local civil rights attorney. First Amendment Rights are the backbone of our country, and American children are our future. It is your right to have your future protected.