Two Texas teens who chose to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest injustice have sued their schools, claiming teachers and administrators subjected them to months of harassment and violated their Constitutional rights.
One lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges a student, identified as “M.O.” in court filings, was disciplined by school officials and bullied by other students, despite the efforts of her mother to resolve the issue with administrators.
Although she began sitting during the pledge in 2014, the harassment reached its apex in September 2017 when a teacher allegedly said those who refused to participate in the Pledge were “unappreciative and disrespectful,” and compared anyone who wouldn't stand to communists and those who condone pedophilia, according to the lawsuit.
“School officials at Klein Oak High School have violated the First Amendment rights of M.O. and her mother,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, staff attorney for American Atheists, in a statement posted online. “For years, they were complicit in a bullying and harassment campaign of a student who did nothing more than peacefully exercise those rights.”
American Atheists is a nonprofit that advocates for the separation of church and state and is funding the lawsuit.
The school district released a statement to Fox News saying it was aware of the lawsuit, however, it “denies the allegations and, after investigation and discussion with those involved over a three-year span, finds multiple discrepancies in the allegations.” The district said it “does not tolerate harassment against students.”
The student’s mother withdrew her from Klein Oak and homeschooled her, allegedly incurring expenses over $10,000, and the lawsuit seeks a judgement confirming her rights were violated as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
“The first reason I sit is because, obviously, it is my Constitutional right, but I also believe that we live in a country where there isn’t justice and freedom for all, and so I’m not going to stand for a pledge that says there is when there really isn’t,” the teenager said during a press conference, according to KPRC Houston.
In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that a student could not be forced to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The second lawsuit, filed on behalf of India Landry and her mother against the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, says the student protested without incident until October.
On Oct. 2, the student was with the principal and school secretary in the principal’s office when she refused to stand for the Pledge and was expelled, according to the lawsuit.
“She asked me to, and I said I wouldn’t,” Landry, a senior at Windfern High School, told KHOU. “And she said, ‘Well, you’re out of here.’”
She was then allegedly told to get a ride home from her mother within five minutes or she would be escorted out of the school by police.
“This is not the NFL,” the school’s secretary reportedly said.
The student’s mother, Kizzy, who told local media that she recorded a phone conversation with the principal, alleges the principal said, “She can't come to my school if she won't stand for the Pledge."
“I don’t think that the flag is what it says it’s for, for liberty and justice and all that. It's not obviously what's going on in America today," Landry said.
The Cypress-Fairbanks district released a statement to Fox News stating it had not been served any papers in the matter and "will not be able to comment on any potential litigation," adding the student is still enrolled and attending classes.