South Carolina Teen Sues School, Teacher Who Shoved Her Over Pledge of Allegiance Refusal

Marissa Barnwell (far left) is seen at a press conference on March 9, 2023 with her parents and her family's attorney after Barnwell was allegedly assaulted by a teacher for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

(Photo: News 19 WLTX)

South Carolina Teen Sues School, Teacher Who Shoved Her Over Pledge of Allegiance Refusal

"The thing that's beautiful about America is we have freedoms," said the student's lawyer. "Students in our schools should feel safe."

Marissa Barnwell, a 15-year-old high school student in Lexington, South Carolina, was joined by her parents and the family's lawyer on Thursday as they spoke publicly about a federal lawsuit they filed against her school district, the state Department of Education, and a teacher who they say assaulted Barnwell late last year for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Surveillance footage from River Bluff High School shows Barnwell walking through a school hallway on November 29, 2022 when the pledge began playing over a loudspeaker.

A state law passed three decades ago requires public schools to play the Pledge of Allegiance over their intercom systems each day at a specific time, but it prohibits any punishment of people who refuse to recite the pledge as long as "they are not disruptive or do not infringe on others."

Barnwell continued walking and was quickly confronted by a special education teacher, Nicole Livingston, who yelled at her and pushed her against a wall before sending her to the principal's office.

"I was just in disbelief," Barnwell said at the press conference Thursday. "You can hear me say in the video, 'Get your hands off of me.'"

Barnwell's parents learned about the incident when she called them in tears, according to the Associated Press. The school did not talk to them about the alleged assault and has reportedly "never responded" to their requests for an explanation.

"It will not be tolerated, and we will get justice for this action that [Livingston] did," Fynale Barnwell, Marissa's mother, toldNews 19 WLTX, a local CBS affiliate.

The lawsuit was filed last month, with the family arguing Livingston violated Barnwell's "constitutional rights by yelling and demanding that M.B. stop walking and physically assaulting her by pushing M.B., on the wall and forcefully touching M.B., in an unwanted way without her consent."

The Secular Coalition for America applauded the family for taking legal action.

Tyler Bailey, the Barnwells' attorney, said Barnwell was "threatened for exercising [her] constitutional rights."

"The thing that's beautiful about America is we have freedoms," Bailey said Thursday. "Students in our schools should feel safe."

According to The State, a local newspaper, Livingston is still employed by the school.

"Nobody did anything," Bailey said. "This is why the federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed."

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