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School, student settle pledge suit

January 1, 2008
Within a week of filing a federal lawsuit, a settlement has been reached on a case involving a high school student who was punished for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Franklin Community School Corp. superintendent said the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has agreed to drop the lawsuit. The school district will pay the student's $1,000 in attorney fees, clear his school record, and not require participation by standing or any other way during the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief moment of silence.

A 17-year-old student identified only as J.L. filed a five-page suit Feb. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against the school corporation.

According to the suit, J.L. decided not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence Feb. 15. A science teacher warned J.L. that he'd be punished for not standing in the future, and when the student later asked what legal authority allowed the school to punish him for not participating, the educator responded "because his teacher 'said so,' not because the law required it," the suit said.

On Feb. 19, J.L. again sat silently and didn't participate in the pledge or moment of silence and was sent to the assistant principal's office. He received detention, but then school officials realized they'd misinterpreted the law, according to Franklin Community School Corp. Superintendent William Patterson.

Indiana law requires that there be a moment of silence and recitation of the pledge every day during school, but it does not force a student to say the pledge or participate. State law says that teachers are responsible for making sure students remain seated or standing during the moment of silence, and that they maintain silence and do not distract other students.

Patterson said administrators thought the law allowed schools to require all students to stand or sit, but not pick one over the other.

ACLU of Indiana attorney Jacquelyn Bowie Suess could not be reached by Indiana Lawyer Feb. 27.
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