Louisiana School Threatens Students Who Kneel During Anthem

parkway high school in LA

This morning, the administration of Parkway High School in Bossier Parish, Louisiana sent a letter to all students (and their parents) threatening to punish any student athlete who engages in silent protest during the national anthem. In the letter, Principal Waylon Bates rationalized the unconstitutional threat referring to state high school athletic regulations saying all athletes must “stand in a respectful manner” lest they finds themselves the targets of disciplinary action including being removed from the sports team completely.

To wit, this is blatantly, explicitly illegal.

Parkway High School letter to students on protesting the national anthem

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The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld students’ right to peacefully protest the pledge and other forms of patriotism including the national anthem.

In the letter, Principal Bates said:

The LHSAA (Louisiana High School Athletic Association) allows school principals to make decisions regarding student participation in the National Anthem while competing in athletic contests and games. Parkway High School requires student athletes to stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem during any sporting event in which their team is participating. Failure to comply will result in loss of playing time and/or participation as directed by the head coach and principal. Continued failure to comply will result in removal from the team. Parkway High School is committed to creating a positive environment for sporting events that is free of disruption to the athletic contest or game.

Pointing out the illegality of the letter and potential retribution against students for engaging in constitutionally protected expression, the ACLU of Louisiana released a statement saying in part:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana put Louisiana schools on notice today, warning them that forcing students to stand during the National Anthem or punishing students who “take a knee” in protest of racial injustice and police brutality would violate students’ First Amendment rights.

ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie Esman offered harsh words for Parkway administrators (and any other school that would follow their lead):

“Bossier Parish is threatening to punish students for peacefully protesting racial injustice and taking a principled position for freedom and equality. This is antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights.

Nearly 75 years ago, the Supreme Court rightly held that state schools have no business forcing students to stand for patriotic rituals. The Court also reminded public school administrators that part of their job is to train students for participation in our free society. This principle holds no less true today, and no less true on the playing field than it does in the classroom. Schools have no valid interest in turning their students into mouthpieces of government speech, full stop. Indeed, schools should respect students who embrace their constitutional rights and stand up to injustice – not punish them. And it would be patently unconstitutional for the school to do so.”

We’ve covered the three applicable Supreme Court precedents in excruciating detail recently, but to sum up:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court initially set precedent in protecting students from compelled speech in the form of forced patriotism in West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette in 1943.
  • Later, in Walker-Serrano ex rel. Walker v. Leonard (2003) the court said, “For over fifty years, the law has protected elementary students’ rights to refrain from reciting the pledge of allegiance to our flag. Punishing a child for non-disruptively expressing her opposition to recitation of the pledge would seem to be as offensive to the First Amendment as requiring its oration.”
  • Finally, in Frazier Frazier v. Winn (2008) that legal principle was explicitly upheld as the justices said, “students have a constitutional right to stay seated during the Pledge is well established.”

We said it before but it bears repeating: When schools do not respect the constitutional rights of their students, they not only set a bad example – they open themselves up to costly civil rights litigation.

Will Parkway High School side with Trump and violate their students’ rights at the cost of potentially thousands in lawsuits, or will they do the right thing?

 

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Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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