As Students #TaketheKnee During Anthem and Pledge, Teachers Can't Punish Them

September 29, 2017

If the past is any indicator, public schools are about to have a big teachable moment about the First Amendment, sparked by a burst of tension between President Donald Trump and professional athletes.

When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem in 2016, high school athletes around the country were inspired to join him. And, as his protest spreads in a highly visible way, it's likely that more young people will want to take part.

NFL players, professional athletes in other sports, and even Stevie Wonder joined in Kaepernick's protest over the weekend, motivated in part by President Donald Trump's call for team owners to fire and otherwise silence players who committed the act of protest.

The actions of so many people who are major influences on young people will almost certainly spread once again to high school sports and classrooms. So here's an important reminder: Courts have held that schools cannot compel students to participate in patriotic rituals like standing for the national anthem or saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

And, as I wrote when Kaepernick's protest—motivated by a concern about police treatment of black Americans—first spread into classrooms, First Amendment advocates say punishing students for such peaceful acts of protests is not only a violation of their rights; it's also a wasted learning opportunity.

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