Texas Attorney General Intervenes in Student's Pledge of Allegiance Lawsuit Against School District

Did I stand for the Pledge of Allegiance while in school? Yes, and I personally was proud to do so.

Do I wish all students stood for the Pledge of Allegiance? Yes, because I want them to believe this country upholds the ideals it was built upon.

Do I want to force people to engage in displays they don’t believe in? No.

Do I think the government should force people to behave a certain way and silence political speech? Absolutely not.

Last year, Texas high school senior India Landry was expelled after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Landry subsequently filed a lawsuit against the school district, arguing her First Amendment rights had been violated. On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened, in support of the school district and a state law.

It seems somewhat surprising that this issue has even come up, considering in 1943 the Supreme Court decided in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that, under the First Amendment, public schools cannot force children to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the American flag.

In the decision’s 6-3 majority opinion, Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters.”

In a concurring opinion, Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas wrote the following (emphasis mine):

Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest. Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds, inspired by a fair administration of wise laws enacted by the people’s elected representatives within the bounds of express constitutional prohibitions. These laws must, to be consistent with the First Amendment, permit the widest toleration of conflicting viewpoints consistent with a society of free men.

Furthermore, in 1969 the Supreme Court followed up with Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, in which the court ruled 7-2 that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The court determined public schools could not censor speech unless the speech were to “materially and substantially interfere” with the school’s operations.

India Landry estimated that she has sat through the Pledge of Allegiance approximately 200 times without any issue, so clearly her conduct had not previously caused any disruption. She was in the principal’s office (for violating classroom policy regarding cell phone usage) at the time this offense occurred, so it did not disrupt any educational process. (On the contrary, the school’s punishment, forcing her to leave school premises and refusing to allow her to return, did interfere with her education.)

In summary, her protest was meaningful, non-disruptive, non-violent, peaceful, silent, and brief.

However, Texas has a state law in which students are required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance unless parents or legal guardians provide written consent allowing their children to opt out.

As Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton is able to intervene in cases that challenge the constitutionality of a state law. Paxton filed a motion to intervene in Landry’s lawsuit on Tuesday, of which he said the following:

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents have a fundamental interest in guiding the education and upbringing of their children, which is a critical aspect of liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Texas Legislature protected that interest by giving the choice of whether an individual student will recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the student’s parent or guardian. School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge.

Requiring the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day has the laudable result of fostering respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country.

This case is about providing for the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance while respecting the parental right to direct the education of children. The district court should uphold the Education Code and the right of parents to determine whether their children will recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Compare Paxton’s third paragraph to Black and Douglas’ concurring opinion above. Black and Douglas wrote that “words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest” and “love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds,” whereas Paxton believes requiring the pledge is a healthy way to foster “respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country.”

Landy’s protest has been compared to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests during the anthem; a school official allegedly told Landry “this isn’t the NFL,” and Landry herself has said the NFL protests inspired her.

“I felt the flag doesn’t represent what it stands for. Liberty and justice for all. And I don’t feel that’s what’s going on in the country today,” Landry told NBC Houston.

There are many people who feel that refusing to stand for the anthem is disrespectful to our country and our troops; it is very likely many people will feel similarly about not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. But it doesn’t dishonor America to refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. It dishonors America to cover up, ignore, or accept injustice. It dishonors America when government silences or punishes political speech it dislikes.

Like the national anthem and the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance is a symbol of the ideals our nation was built upon, such as life, liberty, and justice for all.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all – The Pledge of Allegiance

If Landry believes injustices are occurring within America, then she should be encouraged to speak up against it. What is more important than ensuring our country lives up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all? What is more American than working towards life, liberty, and justice for all?

Moreover, Landry’s protest beautifully exemplifies our rights and freedoms in action. Not only are Americans free to criticize our government and our country, our right to do so is protected by the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights. This is one of the very freedoms that our men and women in the military have fought to protect.

As I said in my RedState diary about the NFL protests, I want to live in a country where every person wants to participate in displays honoring America and her ideals because they believe she upholds them, not because they are told to.

And it’s disappointing and dangerous for a Texan politician to place himself opposite the First Amendment and individual liberty.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.