Waylon Bates, principal of Parkway High School in Bossier City, Louisiana, doesn't care what you're kneeling for. Whether you're protesting police brutality, making a gesture of unity, or praying, it doesn't make a difference to Bates.
If you're an athlete at his school, you'd better be standing during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," or you won't be playing in the game. You might not even be on the team anymore.
Bates sent a letter to Parkway students and parents Thursday telling them that any student-athletes who did not stand during the pre-game national anthem could lose playing time, and if they continuously broke the rule they could be removed from the team.
Here's the full text of the letter:
"The LHSAA (Louisiana High School Athletic Association) allows school principals to make decisions regarding student participation in the National Anthem while competing in athletic contests and games. Parkway High School requires student athletes to stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem during any sporting event in which their team is participating. Failure to comply will result in loss of playing time and/or participation as directed by the head coach and principal. Continued failure to comply will result in removal from the team. Parkway High School is committed to creating a positive environment for sporting events that is free of disruption to the athletic contest or game."
Of course, a move like this has not gone unchallenged. Writer and activist Shaun King posted the letter on his Twitter account Thursday, and the Louisiana ACLU released a statement condemning the letter.
From Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman:
"Bossier Parish is threatening to punish students for peacefully protesting racial injustice and taking a principled position for freedom and equality. This is antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights.
Nearly 75 years ago, the Supreme Court rightly held that state schools have no business forcing students to stand for patriotic rituals. The Court also reminded public school administrators that part of their job is to train students for participation in our free society. This principle holds no less true today, and no less true on the playing field than it does in the classroom.
Schools have no valid interest in turning their students into mouthpieces of government speech, full stop. Indeed, schools should respect students who embrace their constitutional rights and stand up to injustice – not punish them. And it would be patently unconstitutional for the school to do so."
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette is the case Esman is referring to in her statement. In that case, a Jehovah's Witness refused to comply with a school rule that required students to stand for the pledge of allegiance or be expelled.
The Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for the school to require that act of patriotism, and that the student could abstain so long as the student's actions posed no threat to anyone else.