AG Ken Paxton Defends Texas Law Requiring Students to Stand for Pledge of Allegiance Ahead of Lawsuit

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton - COURTESY
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
As a high school senior near Houston, 17-year-old India Landry was expelled for refusing to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Now that she's suing her former school district, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is defending Texas law that forced her to stand for the pledge.

Last year, Landry refused to stand for the pledge while enrolled at Windfern High School in Cypress-Fairbanks I.S.D. She said she had sat through the pledge about 200 times and gotten kicked out of class a handful of times for her protest. But on October 2, 2017, she refused again and was expelled.

Court documents allege that the principal's secretary told Landry, "This is not the NFL." Principal Martha Strother, meanwhile, said "sitting was disrespectful and would not be allowed."

According to Texas Education Code, school districts are required to direct students to recite the pledge of allegiance once a day.

The only exception to that requirement is written in the same law: a student can opt out of saying the pledge if they have written permission from a parent or guardian. (Note the language here: written permission covers reciting the pledge, but not refusing to stand.) Landry's mother was supportive of her protest, though it was unknown whether she had provided written permission for her daughter.

Landry's attorney Randall Kallinen said the law violates a student's constitutional rights, even if it grants guardians permission to opt-out. Experts told Texas Public Radio that Landry's case deals with "coerced political speech" in that requiring students to recite, let alone stand up for, the pledge makes it seem that students agree with "all the things the flag stands for."

Paxton doesn't see it that way. In a statement released earlier this week, he said, "Requiring the pledge to be recited fosters respect for the flag."

Gerald Treece, who teaches constitutional law at the South Texas College of Law Houston, told TPR that he thinks Landry has a shot in court.

"State law does at least allow an opt-out for saying anything, but sometimes speech is conduct – expression is conduct – and that's why I think the student has a valid argument," Treece said. "[She] may not prevail, but it's a valid argument."

Landry's case is set to be heard by a federal judge in 2019.

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