ACLU responds to protest punishments

ACLU responds to protest punishments
(Photo Source: Stacey Cato, Gazebo Gazette)
(Photo Source: Josh Troy, The Clarksdale Press Register)
(Photo Source: Josh Troy, The Clarksdale Press Register)

MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement in defense of Mississippi student athletes who faced suspension for "taking a knee" during the National Anthem.

"We are therefore compelled to remind school districts across the state of Mississippi that any action by public schools to punish these students, or any student for exercising their constitutional right, is antithetical to our American values, and would violate students' clearly established First Amendment free speech rights," says ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins.

The message is in response to frustrations over high school football players who chose to kneel during the National Anthem. Student athletes at Pass Christian High School knelt on the field in late-September, followed by athletes at O'Bannon High School in Greenville on October 1.

The act was started by former-NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt in protest of police brutality and racial injustice in 2016. Since then, similar actions by pro athletes led to a wide-spread rift between fans, the league and the players themselves.

Four students from O'Bannon High were suspended indefinitely by the Western Line School District, whose superintendent claimed a violation of an unwritten rule. That action was later walked back.

While the students from Pass Christian were not suspended, many members of the community did not hesitate to express their anger on social media.

In the statement, the ACLU of Mississippi refers to past court cases that further support individual student rights:

More than 70 years ago, the Supreme Court held in the Barnette decision that the First Amendment bars public schools from requiring students to participate in patriotic ceremonies. That decision holds true today. A school may not require its students to stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance or punish any student for his or her failure to do so. Similarly, in the Tinker case, the Supreme Court held that a student's free speech rights do not embrace merely the classroom hours, but equally when he is in the cafeteria, on the playing field, or on the campus.

The ACLU plans on continuing outreach to Mississippi public schools and encourage them to respect students who "embrace their constitutional rights and stand up to injustice- not punish them."

Collins states, "Doing so would be patently unconstitutional."

To read the full statement, CLICK HERE.

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