It’s a minor issue, really, but when you think about it, the decay of a nation happens a little at a time.
Last week, bowing to pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sweeny Independent School District in Texas announced that it would reword its district and high school handbooks so students no longer would be disciplined for refusing to stand for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Controversy over the policy came to light this month after the principal and assistant principal reprimanded a number of Sweeny High School students for refusing to stand for the Pledge. The administrators said the students’ behavior offended others and that out of respect for the country and the state of Texas, they should comply with the rule book.
Like a plurality of states, Texas law mandates that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag each school day. In Texas, students also swear allegiance to the state flag, which should come as no surprise. This is Texas we’re talking about.
As is customary, everyone stands.
But not these particular Sweeny students, who decided in March, after 12 years of education in the district and on the brink of their high school graduation, that their respect for the flags of the United States and the state of Texas could be demonstrated while staying seated.
When asked to stand for the Pledge, the students essentially responded with a big, fat, “You can’t make me.”
Enlisting the ACLU to argue their case, two of the students, both 18-year-olds, claimed that the requirement to stand for the Pledge violated their constitutional rights. In a letter to the school board declaring “the law is so well settled in this area that teachers and school administrative officials may be personally liable for violating students’ rights,” the ACLU of Texas demanded that the district and the high school immediately bring their policies into compliance with the Constitution and also that they advise everyone and their uncle of the change.
On its website, the civil liberties group declared the case a victory with the headline, “ACLU Of Texas Protects Students’ First Amendment Rights; Sweeny School Officials Must Change Unconstitutional Policy.”
The school board isn’t exactly conceding defeat. Appearing on the Fox News Channel, school board President Samuel Brooks said the district still requires students to stand; however, the rewritten policies no longer threaten discipline if some refuse to do so.
The two students who sought legal counsel wish to remain anonymous. Apparently they fear that whole “Don’t mess with Texas” thing may bite them in the you-know-where.
While their constitutional rights were so vital that they felt compelled to fight a reasonable school policy, they aren’t so important that the students will take a public stand, proving, if nothing else, that at least they’re consistent on the issue of standing. On such character the future of our nation rests.
Meanwhile, Rome burns.
Fighting for the right to stay seated during a constitutionally permissible expression of patriotism seems like a cause without a purpose, but the U.S. Supreme Court long ago decided that it’s un-American to require Americans to love America. (Just try to stay seated when a federal judge enters a courtroom and see what happens.)
Once again, though, we’re confronted with a community’s loss of its right to create and enforce certain standards that reflect the sensibilities of the people who live there, even within the confines of its public schools.
So, congrats, ACLU, on another victory for constitutionally protected free speech and on helping to further erode our American character. But don’t be surprised if the kids look back someday and wish you hadn’t been quite so helpful.
Copyright 2011 Marybeth Hicks