Black Texas student forced to write Pledge of Allegiance reaches $90K settlement with teacher

Francis Akhalbey March 31, 2022
Mari Oliver will receive $90,000 to settle a lawsuit she filed against her teacher and school -- Photo Credit: NBC News

A Black Texas student, who was forced by her high school teacher to write the Pledge of Allegiance after she refused to recite it, will be paid $90,000 to settle a lawsuit she filed in the aftermath of the incident.

According to NBC News, the student, identified as Mari Oliver, was represented by American Atheists. The civil rights organization released a statement on Tuesday to announce Klein Oak High School teacher Benjie Arnold had agreed to settle.

“The Texas Association of School Boards, a risk pool funded by Texas school districts, has paid $90,000 to resolve the case before trial,” the organization said.

Court documents revealed Oliver filed the lawsuit against Arnold as well as the school in 2017. American Atheists alleged Oliver was “harassed, disciplined, and retaliated against for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The organization stated that by sitting out the pledge, the Black student had “exercised her constitutional right to decline to participate in the Pledge out of her objection to the words, ‘Under God,’ and her belief that the United States does not adequately guarantee ‘liberty and justice for all,’ especially for people of color.”

In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students who declined to salute the American flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance because of religious reasons could be allowed to do so, NBC News reported. Texas law also states that a public or charter school must respect a student’s decision to sit out the pledge if the student’s parent or guardian sends in a written request.

But though Oliver’s mother sent that request, the suit stated that her daughter was still harassed because of her decision to sit out the pledge. Her mother ended up temporarily withdrawing her from the school to be homeschooled.

“When she returned, the discrimination she faced for sitting out the Pledge resumed and intensified,” American Atheists stated. The suit also stated that though teachers were notified about Oliver’s option to sit out the pledge, Arnold did not stop taking action against her because of that.

As a result of Oliver’s refusal to recite the pledge, Arnold demanded the plaintiff and her classmates write it instead. “What you’ve done is leave me no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want,” Arnold told Oliver, per the statement by the American Atheists.

Arnold was also recorded telling students he’ll provide financial support if they wanted to relocate to Europe. He, however, told them they’ll have to refund the money in double if they decided to move back to the United States.

“The classroom is not a pulpit. It is a place of education, not indoctrination,” one of Oliver’s lawyers, Geoffrey T. Blackwell, said. “This settlement serves as a reminder that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the classroom.”

“It is incredible—the time and money spent by the Klein Independent School District to stop a student’s free speech,” another attorney, Randall Kallinen, said. “School staff need to teach the Constitution, not violate it.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 31, 2022


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