September 18, 2014

When Educators Teach Students That The Constitution Does Not Apply To Them

I’ve always wanted to teach American Government. I’ve been blessed to teach a couple of sections the last few years, and this year staffing in the department finally made it possible for me to switch my teaching assignment so that half of my time is spent teaching that subject. One major focus of the class is the nature and extent of our liberties under the Constitution – and every semester I cause a little consternation when I teach about Supreme Court cases that deal with the rights of students, such as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. The discussions of those cases often lead students to recount cases when teachers and administrators failed to abide by the lawful limits of their authority and respect the constitutional rights of the students who they are supposed to be preparing to be citizens of a free nation. That’s why this story – and the spin placed on it by the commentator – makes me so very angry.

A North Dakota school has drawn the ire of a national atheist group after a teacher made a 6-year-old child stand up during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jesse Adams, of New Town, ND, tells the Minot Daily News that school administrators violated his son’s First Amendment rights by making him stand for the pledge.

“We’re trying to raise free thinkers,” he told the newspaper.

Yes, Mr. Adams is one of those parents.

When his child continued to defy the directions of his teacher, the youngster was told to stand in the hallway for the duration of the pledge. Mr. Adams said that amounts to bullying.

Maybe the six-year-old could’ve used hallway time for some personal meditation – or free thinking?

Superintendent Mark Bluestone is a military veteran and a patriot. He told the Associated Press the child was placed in the hallway to avoid disrupting other students who wondered why they could not sit during the pledge.

The superintendent said he feels strong about the importance of teaching children to be patriotic – a rarity in American public education.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center fired off a letter to the superintendent. They accused the school of coercing the underage free thinker.

“Allowing students to exercise their right to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance is a matter of free speech and freedom of conscience,” legal director David Niose wrote.

If somebody had pulled that kind of hippy dippy baloney back when I was in school, they would've been pledging allegiance with a boot up their backside.

Apparently Mr. Starnes was educated in a totalitarian nation with a government not limited by the US Constitution and Superintendent Bluestone patriotically fought to defend the same sort of fascist regime. Either that or Starnes is stunningly ignorant of the US Constitution and the US Supreme Court precedents about compelling student speech or taking adverse actions against students exercising constitutional rights and Superintendent Bluestone is an incompetent who failed to absorb the material taught in his educational law class while preparing to get his administrator’s certification. After all, this matter was settled some 70 years ago at the height of World War II in the Barnette case that I mentioned earlier. Consider these excerpts from the majority opinion by Justice Robert Jackson (mentor to the future Chief Justice William Rhenquist who was in turn mentor to the current Chief Justice, John Roberts).

The freedom asserted by these appellees does not bring them into collision with rights asserted by any other individual. It is such conflicts which most frequently require intervention of the State to determine where the rights of one end and those of another begin. But the refusal of these persons to participate in the ceremony does not interfere with or deny rights of others to do so. Nor is there any question in this case that their behavior is peaceable and orderly. The sole conflict is between authority and rights of the individual.

* * *

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Now let’s be clear what is going on in New Town, North Dakota. A student is exercising his uncontestable right to opt out of participation in a flag salute by peacefully remaining seated. He refuses to confess, by either word or act, allegiance to a piece of cloth, despite official efforts to compel him to do so. Exclusion from his assigned classroom for a part of the instructional day singles him out and causes a greater disruption than his remaining seated. The excuse given by the out-of-control mis-educator is that this child's actions caused a disruption because other students asked questions about their about their rights under the Constitution to do likewise. In other words, Superintendent Bluestone and his subordinates are engaged in educational malpractice by seeking to keep their charges in ignorance rather than performing a fundamental task of the American educational system – preparing students to freely exercise their rights as citizens by teaching them what their rights are. What is instead happening in this district is the un-American practice of indoctrinating students in a preferred political/philosophical point of view and marginalizing those who dissent from the officially endorsed ideology. The lesson they are teaching is that a good American does what the government demands and that those who do not are to be excluded and shunned.

And lest you think I’ve got a problem with the pledge, let me state that I do not. I proudly participate in and lead it in my classroom. I encourage my students to participate in it, or at least to stand respectfully. But I do not exclude any who will not – and use such situations (and they are rare) as a teachable moment in which I can educate students about our liberties as Americans. Why? Because I recognize that the surest way to honor American values is to place the Constitution above the flag. Otherwise the symbol is placed above the substance of what our nation is all about.

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Good for you and for the kid! As a 25 year Army veteran (retired), I agree with you completely. No one should ever be forced to say something they don't mean. It is distinctly un-American.

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