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Federal judge: School districts can't force football players to stand for the national anthem

Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, started the player protest movement for the national anthem in 2016. Kaepernick has touched off copycat protests that have reached high school football players and younger. Last week, a federal judge in California ruled that school districts cannot prohibit these protests. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A federal judge in California ruled last week that school districts could not force football players to stand for the national anthem, or require students or coaches to remove hats/helmets or otherwise display traditional forms of respect while the anthem is being played.

What happened?

A Native American football player for a San Pasqual Valley unified school district football team, who was identified in court documents as "V.A.," sparked controversy before a game against rival Mayer High School when he knelt during the playing of the pre-game national anthem. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mayer fans began shouting racial slurs at him, and a San Pasqual Valley cheerleader was doused when some Mayer students sprayed a water bottle at San Pasqual Valley students.

San Pasqual Valley Superintendent Rauna Fox responded to the controversy by issuing a set of new rules that prohibited players from engaging in "kneeling, sitting or other forms of political protest" during the playing of the national anthem, and also requiring students and coaches to remove their hats and helmets while the national anthem was being played.

Fox claimed that her decision was motivated by concern for students' safety, in light of the unrest created by the protest.

The player retained the Glendale, Arizona, firm Bush Gottlieb and sued the school district.

How did the court rule? 

The court granted a temporary injunction, which will allow the protests to continue for now. The injunction means that the court believes that the plaintiffs are more likely than not going to succeed on the merits of the case, and that the student's First Amendment rights outweigh the safety concerns identified by the school.

The attorneys for V.A. have announced that they will next seek to make the injunction permanent. The school district has not yet commented on the decision, or announced whether it plans to appeal if the injunction becomes permanent.

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