Arguing that parents, not students, have the final say over refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at school, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined the legal fight against an African-American teen who was suspended from her Houston-area high school for sitting during the pledge.
In a federal lawsuit, India Landry argues that her free-speech rights were violated when Cypress Fairbanks school district officials sent her home last year for refusing orders from two teachers and the principal to stand for the pledge.
After Landry, now 18, missed all or part of five days, school officials reversed course and allowed her to sit as part of a wider protest over racism and the treatment of African-Americans by police and the criminal justice system.
Landry is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a court order specifying that students have the right to sit during the pledge.
Her lawsuit also asked U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison of Houston to overturn a state law requiring public school students to recite pledges to the American and Texas flags every school day, drawing Paxton into the legal fray.
“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,” Paxton said Tuesday after he moved to intervene in Landry lawsuit.
The Texas law allows students to opt out of reciting the pledges only with a written note from a parent or guardian, Paxton said, describing the Landry case as a fight over each parent’s interest to guide the education and upbringing of their children.
“The Texas Legislature protected that interest by giving the choice of whether an individual student will recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the student’s parent or guardian. School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge,” he said.
Landry’s lawyer, Randall Kallinen of Houston, said he would flip the scenario, arguing that the case is about student rights.
“Students have a right to freedom of speech. If this ever makes it to the Supreme Court, the argument will be which is more powerful, a student’s right to free speech or a school’s right to force students to stand to pledge allegiance to the flag,” Kallinen said.
Landry’s case also is about parental rights, he said, because the student’s mother, Kizzy Landry, tried to hand deliver a written note excusing her daughter from reciting the pledge, but it was rejected by the principal of Windfern High School.
A trial on Landry’s lawsuit is scheduled for April.
Kallinen called Paxton’s move to intervene in the case a political ploy with the Republican attorney general locked in a competitive race with Democratic lawyer Justin Nelson.
“It’s election time. This is part of Paxton rallying the troops to get out there and vote, to donate money,” Kallinen said.
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