Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, apparently, has an iron deficiency. Tuesday, the former state representative and current securities-fraud indictee decided to take a bite of the reddest of conservative red meat — the Pledge of Allegiance.
Paxton is intervening in a lawsuit between a Houston-area high school student, India Landry, and her mother, Kizzy Landry, against Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. The principal of Landry's high school suspended her for four days in 2017 after she refused to stand for the pledge as an act of political protest.
Texas law requires that any student not standing for the pledge have permission not to do so from one of his or her parents or guardians. Although Kizzy Landry had no issue with her daughter's decision to sit, Windfern High School Principal Martha Strother kicked India Landry out of school unilaterally when she refused to stand for the pledge while in Strother's office, according to the Landrys' federal lawsuit.
After four days, Strother relented and let Landry return to school, but according to the Landrys' attorney, Randall Kallinen, India Landry's grade fell because teachers wouldn't allow her to make up for work she missed during her expulsion. Landry, a senior, was subsequently unable to graduate.
“Requiring the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day has the laudable result of fostering respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country,” Paxton said in a statement. “This case is about providing for the saying of the pledge of allegiance [sic] while respecting the parental right to direct the education of children. The district court should uphold the Education Code and the right of parents to determine whether their children will recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”
While Paxton's office regularly intervenes in lawsuits to defend the state's laws, the attorney general tipped his hand with the language that he used in his press release, according to Kallinen.
"In this particular instance, Mr. Paxton decided to get personally involved and issue a press release, which has the common buzzwords in order to get the Republican electorate riled up," Kallinen says. "He hopes to get the base riled up to go and vote, donate money, stuff like that."
Kallinen believes that the Landry's case is a winner for three reasons. First, he says, Strother decreed that no student at her school would sit for the pledge, whether they had parental permission or not. Second, according to Kallinen, India Landry was not given appropriate due process before being expelled. Finally, Texas' law itself is unconstitutional, because it violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent.
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"In 1943, during the middle of World War II, the court ruled that students do not have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance [in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette]," Kallinen says.
Despite Texas' potential unconstitutional statute tweaking that precedent, Kallinen, a longtime civil rights attorney, said that he'd never had a student or parent call him to complain about being forced to stand for the pledge until 2017. He believes President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL players who've knelt during the national anthem — the president called them "sons of bitches" — spurred the change.
"Soon after that, after not seeing one in my 24 years [as a civil rights attorney], three cases came towards me," Kallinen says. "This seems to be related to that particular statement by President Trump."
The Landrys' suit has survived a dismissal challenge from the school district, but it has yet to go to trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.