Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday defended the state law requiring school children to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Paxton moved to intervene in the federal court case involving student India Landry, who was expelled from school over her refusal to participate in the pledge. The Texas Tribune reported that Landry, who’s Black, had sat through the daily pledge some 200 times as a form of protest, an action her teachers deemed “disrespectful.”
“This is not the NFL,” the principal’s secretary told her, court documents allege. “Principal [Martha] Strother suggested that, instead of sitting, India could write about justice and African Americans being killed.”
The teen was told she wouldn’t be allowed to return to school until she agreed to stand, however, Strother reversed the expulsion just a few days later.
Although Landry, 18, and her mother won the lawsuit against Cyprus-Fairbanks Independent School District for violating her free speech rights, Paxton argued that Landry should’ve been made to stand for the pledge because she didn’t have written permission from her parents to do otherwise, as required under Texas law.
“School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge,” the AG said.
“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,” he added. “This case is about providing for the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance while respecting the parental right to direct the education of children.”
Randall Kallinen, Landry’s lawyer, disagrees with the law, however, and argued that forcing students to participate in the pledge violates their First Amendment rights to free speech, even though it gives parents the choice to opt out.
“Let’s say that there was a law passed that students have to donate organs unless their parents say no,” Kallinen offered as an extreme example. “That’d be unconstitutional no matter what the parents say.”
Kallinen is also representing two Houston-area students who say they were also punished by school officials after they sat through the Pledge of Allegiance, according to the paper. newspaper. In Landry’s case, the lawyer said he couldn’t recall if the teen’s mother, Kizzy Landry, had filed a written statement with the school allowing her daughter to sit through it.
In his motion filed Tuesday, Paxton argued he was intervening in the case to protect the rights of parents who see fit that their children stand for the pledge in school.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, parents have a fundamental interest in guiding the education and upbringing of their children,” he wrote. “That interest rightfully includes determining whether their children should participate in the time-honored tradition of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag.”
“A State may act to protect that interest, and the Texas Legislature did so by giving the choice of whether an individual student will recite the Pledge to the student’s parent or guardian,” Paxton added. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has held that doing so is a legitimate way to protect parents’ interest in determining how their children will be educated on civic values and does not violate the students’ First Amendment rights.”
Landry’s case is scheduled to go to trial in April 2019.