Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

9th grader sues over Pledge of Allegiance confrontation

Maryland Pride
Wikimedia Commons

The parents of a ninth grade South Carolina student who said she was accosted by a teacher for walking to class instead of stopping and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are suing the teacher, principal, school district and state education officials.

Marissa Barnwell said she was walking quietly to class and decided not to stop for the pledge or a moment of silence that followed. A teacher yelled at her, confronted her and pushed her against a wall.

Barnwell was then sent to the principal's office, which she said was humiliating because she feared she was in trouble. The principal sent her back to class, but Barnwell said he never let her know that the teacher was wrong and she was right.

"I was completely and utterly disrespected," Barnwell, 15, said at a news conference Thursday, according to The State newspaper. "No one has apologized, no one has acknowledged my hurt. ... The fact that the school is defending that kind of behavior is unimaginable."

Barnwell's parents are suing the River Bluff High School teacher, the principal, Lexington School District 1, and the South Carolina Education Department in federal court, saying they violated the girl's civil rights and her First Amendment rights to both free speech or not to speak at all.

A state law passed more than 30 years ago requires public schools to play the Pledge of Allegiance at a specific time every day.

But that law also prohibits punishing anyone who refuses to recite the pledge as long as they are not disruptive or do not infringe on others.

"The thing that's beautiful about America is we have freedoms," said Tyler Bailey, the family's lawyer. "Students in our schools should feel safe, they should not be feel threatened for exercising their constitutional rights."

Barnwell said she called her parents in tears and they said the teacher, principal or district never responded.

Lexington School District 1 said its attorney is working on a response to the lawsuit and didn't have any additional comment. River Bluff High School's website indicates the teacher and principal are still working at the school.

"I was just in disbelief," Barnwell said, adding that she told the teacher, "Get your hands off of me."