Pledge of Allegiance

Texas Attorney General Ignores 75 Years of Supreme Court Rulings Trying to Force a Student to Stand for the Pledge

The irony is that she's protesting authoritarian police behavior.


A.G. Ken Paxton
Joshua Roberts/REUTERS/Newscom

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's website says "Liberty and Justice for Texas" in big letters at the top. He seems to have a funny idea of what "liberty" means, though. He thinks the State of Texas can force students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

India Landry, 18, was expelled from a high school in Katy, Texas, because she has repeatedly refused to stand for the Pledge. Landry is suing the school district in federal court, arguing violations of her civil rights. Now Paxton, as the state's top prosecutor, is asking to intervene in the federal case.

To say that court precedent is on Landry's side may understate things. A Supreme Court decision from all the way back in 1943 makes it very clear that public schools cannot force students to salute the flag or recite the pledge.

You might expect that as the state's attorney general, Paxton would be defending Landry's free speech rights here. Nope: He wants to argue that Landry cannot refuse to stand for the flag without her parent's permission. It seems that Texas schools have opt-out forms that parents are expected to sign to give children "permission" to not stand. In a press release, he claims, quite incorrectly, "School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge."

Landry's mother is supporting her lawsuit, which makes Paxton's approach more than a little strange. Even stranger is the Supreme Court precedents he's attempting to use in his motion to justify his position. He quotes Texas v. Johnson and Spence v. Washington, in which the Court said, "there is a special place reserved for the flag in this Nation, and thus we do not doubt that the government has a legitimate interest in making efforts to 'preserv[e] the national flag as an unalloyed symbol of our country.'" But this quote comes from a Supreme Court case affirming the right to desecrate the flag as a form of protected speech! The decision specifically forbids the government from punishing citizens for disrespecting the flag.

This unconstitutional wankery can be explained by election-year politics and by the fact that Landry is reportedly refusing to stand for the pledge to show her support for kneeling NFL players. In other words, Paxton is supporting the school district punishing a black student for participating in a protest that is fundamentally about how people in authority abuse their power to punish black people.