We were disheartened to read this story today in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in which the Superintendent of Cobb County Schools is quoted stating that, if one of his district’s athletes were to kneel during the national anthem, “their asses would be benched.” Such a comment is highly inappropriate for an individual whose job is to ensure young people have a full opportunity to learn about our civic rights–including the right to peacefully protest without fear of retaliation. His statement runs afoul of the values of the United States Constitution, which guarantees young people the right to speak or protest peacefully on issues on public concern.
In the famous case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), the United States Supreme Court held that the protections of the First Amendment extend to students in public schools. In Tinker, the Court overruled a public school’s ban on students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The Court held, “Students in school . . . may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved.” Numerous federal courts within the Eleventh Circuit–of which Georgia is a part–have found that school officials may be held personally liable for punishing students for expressing their views. See Holloman ex rel Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252 (11th Cir. 2004).
If a superintendent or other school official were to punish a student for protesting peacefully–including “benching” students who knelt during the National Anthem–this would be a violation of the First Amendment. It would also be a violation of our national values of free speech. It would be a violation of the very freedoms the National Anthem is meant to celebrate.
If you are a student who has been punished for, or prevented from, exercising your First Amendment rights, or the parents of such a student, we would like to hear from you. We are civil rights attorneys specializing in constitutional law, and we have brought numerous First Amendment cases to court. We know how to bring these cases in a respectful and professional manner and fight to defend your rights under the constitution. Please give us a call at 678-271-0300 or send us an email from our contact form.