But we know there’s always going to be a trickle-down effect [from his tweets about NFL players refusing to stand for the National Anthem] with Trump – and indeed, now students are paying the price. Within the last two weeks, a high school football coach in Tennessee told his players they have to stand for the national anthem, a Louisiana principal threatened to remove student athletes from their teams if they didn’t stand during the national anthem and the superintendent of the entire parish, who supervises almost three dozen schools, then said he supported this policy and suggested it would apply to all of his schools.
Before more students’ rights are threatened, this needs to stop. Not only does it go against basic American principles to threaten students about speaking up – it’s also blatantly unconstitutional for a public school to do this. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1943 when it decided the landmark case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In that case, school children who were Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the flag because it was against their religion to do so, and as a result they were expelled or threatened with expulsion.
The Supreme Court very forcefully declared that punishing students for not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. The decision had nothing to do with the students’ religion and everything to do with their constitutional right to freedom of speech.