Lafayette Parish public school students will still be required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance after the school board declined Wednesday to align its pledge policy with court decisions that protect student speech.
The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 8-1 to reject a proposed policy change that would have eliminated language requiring students to stand during the pledge, even if they object from reciting the pledge because of religious reasons.
The issue came up in April when an Acadiana High School student was disciplined for sitting during the pledge. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of religious and secular minorities, followed up on the student’s behalf by sending the district a letter condemning the policy.
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As it stands now, the policy provides an exemption for students who refuse to recite the pledge because of religious reasons but still requires those students to stand.
Board member Erick Knezek proposed rejecting the change.
“We have an obligation to teach citizenship, and we have an obligation to teach respect for our nation,” said Knezek, who served in the U.S. Navy.
Board President Tommy Angelle and board member Britt Latiolais also cited their military service in rejecting the proposed change.
Board member Jeremy Hidalgo urged the board to continue enforcing the current policy so as to not bow “to political correctness.”
Dawn Morris, who cast the sole vote against rejecting the proposed policy change, suggested aligning the policy with state law, which enables local school boards to allow a chance for morning prayer, meditation and the pledge.
“One of the things our military fights for in this country is our U.S. Constitution and one of the things it does is it recognizes the differences we all have in this country,” Morris said.
Board attorney Bob Hammonds said the policy cannot legally be enforced.
“Refusing to stand is a form of speech, and as a result you cannot regulate that type of speech unless it is purely in the interest of safety. And it has to be more than just subjective belief that there might be a risk,” Hammonds said.
Hammonds pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1943 decision in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett. The court held public schoolchildren cannot be forced to salute the flag without their rights to free speech and religion being violated.
“This is not something that’s new — something that’s fresh or newly on the books,” Hammonds said. “This is something that’s existed in this country now for 70 years.”
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