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Texas AG stands behind district’s decision to expel student for refusing to stand for pledge

The Texas attorney general stands by the school district's decision to expel a student for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance last fall. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is backing the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, which expelled a high school student who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that administrations could not force students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette.

What did Paxton say?

In a statement, Paxton said, "School children cannot unilaterally refuse to participate in the pledge."

"The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents have a fundamental interest in guiding the education and upbringing of their children, which is a critical aspect of liberty guaranteed by the Constitution," Paxton's statement added.

Paxton also said that the district was in the right to expel the student because students are required to stand for the pledge unless parents write a note opting out.

Paxton said standing for the Pledge of Allegiance is a "time-honored tradition" and that the school has every right to enforce steps to ensure that "the national flag" is an "unalloyed symbol of our country."

"The United States flag represents the values of liberty and justice that form the foundation of this country and are defended by our armed forces," Paxton said.

What's the background?

In October, a Houston family filed a lawsuit in a federal court after Windfern High School expelled their daughter, India Landry, for refusing to stand during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The suit accused the school and district of stepping on India's First Amendment rights, but the school refused to back down on its decision to expel India. She was expelled for a week.

At the time, India said that school officials said “this is not the NFL,” a clear nod to the kneeling protests during the NFL regular season.

“I don’t think that the flag is what it says it’s for, for liberty and justice and all that. It’s not obviously what’s going on in America today,” India said.

India's mother, Kizzy, said that school officials dismissed India's protest as a racial issue.

“They just assumed it was about race,” she said. “The assistant principal told her, ‘All the other African-Americans are standing, so you should stand, too.'”

India later told KHOU-TV that she didn't want to stand for the pledge because "it goes against everything I believe in."

What has been the response to Paxton's remarks?

The family's lawyer, attorney Randall L. Kallinen, indicated that the attorney general is weighing in on the civil rights case for political gain.

“The reason he’s challenging this case is that it’s election time,” Kallinen said. “It’s an attempt to rally the troops.”

Kallinen will also invoke the Supreme Court's 1943 ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette to support the case.

Ashton Woods of Black Lives Matter Houston said, “[Paxton's] decision, as usual, is rooted in racism and a need to maintain some control of a person’s personal autonomy.”

Andre Segura, the legal director for Texas' ACLU, added, “Once again, it appears that Ken Paxton is using his authority to foster division within our state through political posturing. Schools are meant to be a marketplace of ideas where students do not shed their First Amendment rights.”

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