A South Carolina family has filed a lawsuit after their 15-year-old daughter was assaulted for not participating in the pledge of allegiance at her high school in Columbia.
The lawsuit was filed against the state department of education and Lexington One School District on March 9, according to WLTX News.
Honor roll student Marissa Barnwell was walking to class at River Bluff High School last November when she was confronted by a teacher, Nicole Livingston, in a hallway at around 8:40 a.m. The pledge of allegiance was being recited over the loudspeakers as it is daily, and Livingston allegedly had an issue with the ninth grader walking in the hallway as it was broadcast.
The lawsuit states that Marissa was “silently in a non-disruptive manner to her class” walking in the hallway during the pledge of allegiance when Livingston approached her while “yelling and demanding that M.B. stop walking and physically assaulting her by pushing M.B., on the wall and forcefully touching M.B., in an unwanted way without her consent so that she would stop walking in recognition of the Pledge of Allegiance and Moment of Silence that was announced at the conclusion of the Pledge.”
Video of the incident captured Livingston pushing Marissa up against a wall after she turned a corner on her way to class. Marissa recalled the assault during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
“She pushes me into a wall, then she snatches my ID and says she’s going to report me to the office,” said Marissa. “I’m just confused and like ‘get your hands off of me, get your hands off of me’, you can hear me say that in the video. I was just in disbelief, I had never expected something like that to happen to me. I was completely and utterly disrespected. No one has apologized, no one has acknowledged my hurt,” she added. “The fact that the school is defending that kind of behavior is unimaginable.”
Marissa also said that she had never met Livingston prior to the assault and hadn’t recited the pledge of allegiance since the third grade.
“Once I realized that in those pledges you say ‘liberty and justice for all, is America really liberty and justice for all? After that,” she said. “I just realized I’m just not going to say this Pledge of Allegiance anymore.”
Marissa’s dad, Shavell Barnwell, noted that other students were walking in the hallway as well, yet his child was singled out.
“I just can’t believe this has happened,” said Barnwell. “Why would a teacher, you can see it in the video, why would the teacher single out my daughter when you could clearly see that other students are walking in this video.”
While the lawsuit conceded that it is the policy of River Bluff High School that all students recite the pledge of allegiance every morning, it also noted that South Carolina state law allows anyone who wishes not to recite the pledge to be “exempt from participation and may not be penalized for failing to participate.” The lawsuit also notes that the Supreme Court has ruled “compelling saluting or pledging allegiance to the flag” is forbidden.
Marissa was taken to Principal Jacob Smith’s office, who allegedly took the side of Livingston and said, “Shouldn’t you be proud of your country?’”
Livingston is still employed at the school, and the South Carolina Department of Education filed a motion on March 10 to be dismissed from the case. The DOE argued that the lawsuit failed to sufficiently explain why the department is involved in the complaint.
“The Complaint does not affirmatively allege that any of the three named individual Defendants were employed by this Defendant, nor acting on behalf of the Department,” reads the motion. “Nor does the Complaint name any individuals who were actually acting as employees or agents of the Department for which the Department [is liable], nor any factual basis explaining why the Department is even a named Defendant in this suit. Nor are there any fact-based allegations made against the Defendant Department individually.”