9th grade girl sues for showdown with pledge of allegiance
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – The parents of a ninth grade South Carolina student who said she was accosted by a teacher for walking to class instead of stopping and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are suing the teacher, principal, school district, and state education officials.
Marissa Barnwell said she walked quietly to class and decided not to stop for the pledge or a moment of silence that followed. A teacher yelled at her, confronted her and pushed her against a wall.
Barnwell was then sent to the principal’s office, which she said was humiliating as she feared getting into trouble. The principal sent her back to class, but Barnwell said he never let her know that the teacher was wrong and she was right.
“I was completely and totally disrespected,” Barnwell, 15, said at a press conference Thursday, according to The State newspaper. “No one apologized, no one acknowledged my hurt. … The fact that the school is standing up for this kind of behavior is unimaginable.”
Barnwell’s parents are suing the River Bluff High School teacher, Lexington School District 1 superintendent and the South Carolina Department of Education in federal court, claiming they violated the girl’s civil rights and his First Amendment rights to free speech or not to speak at all.
A state law passed more than 30 years ago requires public schools to play the Pledge of Allegiance at a specific time each day.
But this law also forbids punishing anyone who refuses to recite the covenant as long as he does not disturb or violate others.
“The beautiful thing about America is that we have freedoms,” said Tyler Bailey, the family’s attorney. “Students in our schools should feel safe, they should not feel threatened for exercising their constitutional rights.”
Barnwell said she called her parents in tears and they said the teacher, principal or district never answered.
Lexington School District 1 said its attorney is working on a response to the lawsuit and has no additional comment. The River Bluff High School website states that the teacher and principal still work at the school.
“I was just in disbelief,” Barnwell said, adding that she told the professor, “Let go of me.”
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