A high school student has filed a free speech case against her school district in Houston federal court, alleging she was harassed and bullied by both students and teachers after she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to her recent complaint in Arceneaux v. Klein Independent School District, the 17-year-old plaintiff, identified in the opinion as M.O., alleged she has sat respectfully hundreds of times between 2014 and 2017 during the start of the day when students recite the pledge at Klein Oak High School. As a result of her protest, she was sent to the office, bullied by classmates and singled out for separate treatment by teachers.
M.O. later withdrew from Klein Oak in favor of homeschooling earlier this year at her own expense but returned after the summer break. Upon her return, M.O. was told by her sociology teacher that those who refused to complete the pledge would receive a zero in the class. He also compared those who refused to say the pledge to “Soviet communists, members of the Islamic faith seeking to impose Sharia law, and those who condone pedophilia,” according to the complaint.
In her complaint, M.O. alleges that under the First Amendment, public school students cannot be forced to stand for the pledge and the school district retaliated against her for engaging in protected speech.
She also notes in her complaint that a public school students’ right not to stand for the pledge has existed since 1943. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that right extended to two students who refused to say the pledge for religious reasons.
“The right not to be forced to stand for the pledge is one of your earliest civil rights established in 1943,’’ said Randall Kallinen, a Houston attorney who represents M.O. “Students do not lose the right to speak when they walk up the schoolhouse steps.”
Kallinen said M.O. is suing the school district because they failed to protect her free speech rights. “There were people in the Klein Independent School District that participated in this and ignored it. Basically, the school is setting forth a certain political agenda,’’ he said. In a statement, The Klein Independent School District denied the allegations.
“Klein ISD is aware of a lawsuit filed against the District and some of its employees and former employees that alleges that the district and employees have interfered with a student’s exercise of her Constitutional right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” according to the statement.
“ Klein ISD denies the allegations and, after investigation and discussion with those involved over a three-year span, finds multiple discrepancies in the allegations,” the statement alleges. “Klein ISD continues to respect the rights of all students. As Klein ISD communicated to the family’s attorney this summer, Klein ISD does not tolerate harassment against students.”