Pledge causes Texas trou­ble

State and stu­dent who sat wag­ing long le­gal bat­tle

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Alex Hor­ton

Last Oc­to­ber, then-17year-old In­dia Landry was in the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice of her Texas high school when the school in­ter­com crack­led. It was time for the Pledge of Al­le­giance.

Her class­mates stood nearly in uni­son all over Wind­fern High School, out­side Hous­ton.

But Landry stayed seated and did not re­cite it.

Prin­ci­pal Martha Strother, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings, took ac­tion.

“Well, you’re kicked outta here,” she told Landry.

The school sec­re­tary keyed on the sym­bol­ism of the act by Landry, who is black.

“This isn’t the NFL,” she said, the fil­ing shows, con­nect­ing Landry’s ac­tions to protests led by for­mer quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick, who knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest po­lice bru­tal­ity.

Landry was ex­pelled, but then was al­lowed back into school days later, court fil­ings show. A long le­gal bat­tle en­sued be­tween Landry, now 18, and school district of­fi­cials.

The suit was filed by Landry’s mother, Kizzy Landry, who claimed that the school vi­o­lated con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions of free speech, due process and equal pro­tec­tion.

Now, the Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral has in­ter­vened in the fed­eral case and de­fended a Texas law that Landry has chal­lenged as un­con­sti­tu­tional. It re­quires stu­dents to re­cite the pledge, or get a par­ent’s or guardian’s per­mis­sion if they wish to opt out.

“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,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton said last week.

Twenty-six other states have sim­i­lar statutes, Pax­ton said. His com­ment in­cluded a not-so-sub­tle nod to a pop­u­lar Repub­li­can at­tack on the NFL protests echoed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Landry’s at­tor­ney, Ran­dall Kalli­nen, a civil rights lawyer and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Hous­ton ACLU chap­ter, said the protests and po­lit­i­cal firestorm that en­sued is im­por­tant con­text. Ten days be­fore Landry re­fused to stand and re­cite the pledge, Trump sug­gested that NFL own­ers should fire play­ers who kneel.

“Be­fore this case, never one time did I hear of any school forc­ing kids to stand for the Pledge of Al­le­giance,” Kalli­nen told The Wash­ing­ton Post, cit­ing thou­sands of re­quests for as­sis­tance in his ca­reer. “Then, in two weeks, I had three calls.”

Kalli­nen de­scribed the de­ci­sion and word­ing of Pax­ton’s an­nounce­ment as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated to gal­va­nize con­ser­va­tive vot­ers ahead of the elec­tions.

Kalli­nen said her ac­tions were partly in­spired by Kaeper­nick’s protest of po­lice bru­tal­ity. She had re­fused to stand for the pledge more than 200 times, court fil­ings show.

Last spring, Landry’s re­fusal prompted a teacher to send her out of class, and an­other sent her to the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice.

“I felt the flag doesn’t rep­re­sent what it stands for, lib­erty and jus­tice for all, and I don’t feel what is go­ing on in the coun­try, so it was my choice to re­main seated, silently. It was a silent protest,” Landry told Fox 32 in July.

That came af­ter the judge de­nied re­quests from the Cy­press Fair­banks school district to dis­miss the case.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, the school’s as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal told In­dia that she “was go­ing to stand for the pledge like the other African-Amer­i­can in her class.” Prin­ci­pal Strother also sug­gested that Landry write about black jus­tice is­sues in lieu of re­fus­ing to stand.

That, and con­nec­tions to the NFL protests made by school of­fi­cials, led Judge Keith El­li­son of the South­ern Texas District Court to al­low claims of equal pro­tec­tion vi­o­la­tions to move for­ward.

Those com­ments “sig­nal that (school of­fi­cials) view In­dia’s choice to re­main seated for the Pledge as one that is linked to In­dia’s race and the treat­ment of peo­ple of her race,” El­li­son wrote in his July rul­ing.

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