Saturday, March 28, 2020

Student Who Objects To Reciting Pledge May Move Ahead On Compelled Speech Claim Against Teacher

In Oliver v. Klein Independent School District, (SD TX, March 25, 2020), a Texas federal district court, while dismissing a number of plaintiff's claims, allowed a high school student to move ahead with her 1st Amendment compelled speech claim against her sociology teacher Benji Arnold.  Plaintiff Mari Oliver  objected to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. As described by the court:
Arnold played the Bruce Springsteen song “Born in the U.S.A.,” and told the class to write down how the song made them feel.... He then gave the students a timed assignment to transcribe the Pledge of Allegiance, stating that, because the assignment was written, the students were not actually pledging allegiance to the United States.... Oliver refused, drawing a “squiggly line” instead.
The court held:
The parties disagree about whether Arnold was hostile to those who abstain from the pledge and refuse to assimilate into American society. The complaint alleges that Arnold compared people who abstain from the pledge to Soviet communists, supporters of Sharia, and people who condone pedophilia.... The parties’ interpretations of Arnold’s remarks inform their arguments about whether the pledge assignment had an impermissible patriotic intent. Oliver and Arnold also dispute whether Oliver’s refusal to write the pledge was protected speech or a mere refusal to do coursework.... Granting summary judgment for Arnold on the compelled-speech claim is clearly inappropriate. Granting partial summary judgment for the plaintiffs is a closer question, but the full record at trial will provide a more secure basis for an accurate ruling.