Three small-town eighth-graders in Minnesota were suspended by their principal for not standing Thursday morning for the Pledge of Allegiance, violating a district policy that the principal now says may soon be reworded to protect free speech rights.
"My son wasn't being defiant against America," said Kim Dahl, mother of one of the students, Brandt, who attends Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School in northwestern Minnesota.
Brandt told the Forum newspaper in Fargo that Thursday's one-day in-school suspension, "was kind of dumb because I didn't do anything wrong. It should be the people's choice."
Kim Dahl said the "punishment didn't fit the crime. If they wanted to know why he didn't stand, they should've made him write a paper." She said her son has been declining to stand all school year, offered no reason for sitting and was not obligated to explain his actions.
The school's handbook says all students are required to stand but are not required to recite the pledge. The same is true for all four schools in the district, a school official said.
"These three [students] didn't, and they got caught," said Mel Olson, the district's community education director. He said he backs the punishment, "being a veteran and a United States of America citizen, absolutely." Olson served in the Marines in Japan during the Vietnam War.
The head of the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union said that the school's actions against the students are unconstitutional, and his office informed the district of that today in a strongly worded letter.
"The school can't do that; that's illegal," said Chuck Samuelson, the civil liberties group's executive director. "Wow."
Samuelson said that numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings dating to the 1940s say in "well-settled constitutional law" that "students who refuse to participate in the pledge cannot be punished for refusing to participate."
© 2008 The Star Tribune