Louisiana School Board Upholds Illegal Pledge Policy, Forcing Students to Stand Against Their Will July 7, 2016

Louisiana School Board Upholds Illegal Pledge Policy, Forcing Students to Stand Against Their Will

Just yesterday, I posted about how the Lafayette Parish School Board in Louisiana was finally considering changing its Pledge of Allegiance policy after a young atheist was punished for not participating.

Junior Raymond Smith chose not to stand up during the Pledge ritual at Acadiana High School last April, only to have his teacher call him “fucking disrespectful.” On another day, he was deemed unpatriotic and told he should move to a different country.

PledgeLouisianaSmith

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to Superintendent Donald Aguillard detailing Raymond’s story, urging them to make things right before they got any worse. And yesterday was the meeting when the board was going to vote to change the policy.

Instead, they whiffed, voting almost unanimously to keep the forced Pledge policy in place for the dumbest of reasons:

Board member Erick Knezek proposed rejecting the change

“We have an obligation to teach citizenship, and we have an obligation to teach respect for our nation,” said Knezek, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Board President Tommy Angelle and board member Britt Latiolais also cited their military service in rejecting the proposed change.

Board member Jeremy Hidalgo urged the board to continue enforcing the current policy so as to not bow “to political correctness.”

They’re all bullshit reasons. Displaying citizenship and respect for the nation includes obeying the law, and the law is very clear on this: No one has to participate in the Pledge. In fact, refusing to participate is a perfectly legal form of civil disobedience. The Supreme Court has ruled on this very issue.

And citing military service makes no sense, either, since you’d think soldiers fighting for our country would want to defend the Constitution and a student’s First Amendment right to not Pledge to a nation “under God” — or any other reason for that matter.

This is the policy they voted to uphold:

… Throughout the playing (singing) of the National Anthem and/or the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, all students shall stand at respectful attention. During recitation of the “pledge,” each student shall place his/her right hand over his/her heart.

If a student, due to a conscientiously and sincerely held religious belief, feels entitled to an exemption to the requirement to recite the pledge, such student shall still be required to stand.

Everything in bold is illegal. The district can’t legally force students to do any of those things, but their vote yesterday indicated they’re going to try to do it, anyway.

The board’s attorney begged them to reconsider:

Board attorney Bob Hammonds said the policy cannot legally be enforced.

“Refusing to stand is a form of speech, and as a result you cannot regulate that type of speech unless it is purely in the interest of safety. And it has to be more than just subjective belief that there might be a risk,” Hammonds said.

Let’s hope Raymond and the AHA file a lawsuit, since it’ll be a slam dunk victory.

These board members want to throw away the taxpayers’ money on a lawsuit where the outcome isn’t in doubt — all because their pride prevents them from doing the right thing. They can’t admit that a student understands the law and his rights far better than they do.

I would be furious if I was a parent in this community.

***Update***: The American Humanist Association condemns the District’s decision and reminds everyone of its Pledge boycott:

“Students have a First Amendment right to refrain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance exercise,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, in reference to the 1943 ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. “The school district had the opportunity to reflect this settled law in its policy but instead chose to continue unjustly requiring students who object to the words ‘under God’ to stand for the Pledge.”

The American Humanist Association is promoting a national boycott of the Pledge of Allegiance to encourage students who object to the “under God” wording of the Pledge to exercise their right to remain seated during its recitation. The American Humanist Association has advocated for the removal of “under God” from the Pledge because the phrase, added in 1954 during the McCarthy Era, conflates patriotism and belief in a god, encouraging prejudice against atheists and humanists.

No comment yet on whether a lawsuit is forthcoming.

(Screenshot via KATC. Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of the article were published earlier)

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