theintercept | Students are being threatened with punishment for not participating in rituals surrounding the national anthem or Pledge of Allegiance — and they are fighting back.
Since NFL 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem in August to protest oppression of people of color, many Americans, particularly professional athletes and students, have followed suit. But their constitutional right to engage in such gestures of dissent is not always being respected.
Threats from school administrators and teachers have put free speech advocates like the ACLU on high alert. At Lely High School, a public school in Naples, Florida, the principal told students that they would be removed from athletic events if they refused to stand during the national anthem — though he said the quote was misunderstood when the ACLU of Florida reached out.
“You will stand, and you will stay quiet. If you don’t, you are going to be sent home, and you’re not going to have a refund of your ticket price,” Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth told students.
“The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that public schools may not constitutionally force students to salute the flag,” Lee Rowland, a First Amendment attorney who works with the ACLU, told The Intercept. “That ruling is crystal clear about a student’s right not to be compelled into patriotism by their government, and it is over 70 years old.”
The ruling that Rowland references came after many Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States began to refuse to salute the flag in solidarity with their brethren in Nazi Germany who were being arrested for refusing to salute that country’s fascist flag.
The action by the American Jehovah’s Witnesses provoked a backlash, and a number of followers of the faith were persecuted for refusing to salute. In West Virginia, a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses brought suit after their children were sanctioned for doing so.
The court ruled in favor of the family. In his opinion, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”