Wednesday, 03 October 2018 14:31

Column: Texas Attorney General Wrong to Uphold Student's Expulsion for Pledge Refusal

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Ken Paxton needs a refresher course in First Amendment jurisprudence.

You’d think, being the attorney general of Texas, he would know better.

Paxton upheld the expulsion of a high school senior who was sent home permanently because she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, according to USA Today.

India Landry, 18, said she didn’t stand because she doesn’t believe the flag stands for liberty and justice for all, as stated in the closing of the pledge.

"Schoolchildren cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge,” Paxton said in a statement last week. "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."

The national newspaper cited a Texas law requiring public education students to recite the pledge. However, the law does allow for students to opt out with a written request from their parent or guardian.

Paxton pointed out that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the written-request exemption makes sure that students’ rights aren’t violated.

What Paxton and USA Today failed to mention was a 75-year-old Supreme Court case that rebukes Paxton’s assertion and renders the Texas law, and similar laws in 25 other states, null and void.

In the landmark 1943 case West Virginia v. Barnette, the court ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witness students who refused to salute the flag on religious grounds of swearing an oath to an image.

(Note: This is before the words “under God” were added, and the salute to the flag was an outstretched arm with the palm facing upward, recently changed because of its similarity to the Nazi salute.)

Then, as now, the compulsory ritual was meant to foster patriotism (more like nationalism.) 

The court also noted that such forced affirmations historically led to the quelling of dissent.

“To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds,” wrote Justice Robert Jackson.

Jackson’s oft-cited quote from the decision reads: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

That means neither the teacher, principal, Paxton or even President Donald Trump can force a student to say the pledge if it goes against his or her personal belief, whether it be religious or political in nature.

And the parental waiver isn’t a good enough excuse because children's beliefs may differ from those of their parents.

Contrary to common thought and practice, children have the same fundamental rights as adults. If they do not, then we’re not dealing with rights at all, but rather privileges.

There are some who see the pledge as an oath of allegiance to a piece of cloth and the government — which, by its own wording it is (“... and to the republic for which it stands…” — and would rather pledge their allegiance to themselves, their families and their friends instead of to a group of psychopathic parasites.

No students should be denied an education because they refuse to blindly pledge themselves to the government.

William R. Toler is a reporter for the Richmond Observer.