Student is paddled for raising a fist during the Pledge. How do you think this will turn out?

This week we are looking at cases involving students and the Pledge of Allegiance.  On Monday, we looked at the only Supreme Court case we have on this subject, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.  Today, we move to the 11th Circuit in 2004.  As usual, the fact situation is interesting.

Our story begins when John Michael Hutto stuck his hands in his pockets and remained silent during the Pledge.  When his teacher asked about this, the young man told her that he did not want to recite the Pledge, had not recited it in a month and did not have to say it.  The teacher, in front of the whole class, reminded him that he was the recipient of a scholarship to the Air Force Academy.

The teacher then got the principal involved, who threatened to report the student’s behavior to the recruiter at the Academy and the Congressman who had recommended Hutto.  The student was ordered to apologize to the teacher and the class, which he did.

This did not sit well with another student, Michael Hollman, soon to be known as “the Plaintiff.”  The following day, Holloman stood during the Pledge and silently raised his fist.  The teacher shamed him in front of the class. The principal gave him three days of detention. Since it turned out that Holloman was due to graduate in fewer than three days, the principal gave him the option of accepting corporal punishment, which is what happened.  So he was paddled for raising a fist during the Pledge.

The court held that if these facts were proven to be true, the student’s constitutional rights had been violated. Moreover, neither the teacher nor the principal was entitled to qualified immunity. They both faced potential personal liability for punishing the student for the exercise of free speech.  Based on the Barnette case and others, the court held that the student was engaging in non-disruptive, symbolic speech that was entitled to constitutional protection.  Key Quote:

At the very least, Holloman’s gesture was expressive conduct…..Even if students were not aware of the specific message Hollman was attempting to convey, his fist clearly expressed a generalized message of disagreement or protest directed toward [the teacher], the school, or the country in general.

So that’s two cases involving students refusing to participate in the Pledge, and the kids have won both cases. Tune in tomorrow for Round Three. This one is Holloman v. Walker County Board of Education, decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 28, 2004. We found it at 370 F.3d 1252.


Tomorrow: If you don’t say the Pledge, we’re going to tell your mother!