The parents of a 9th grader in South Carolina are suing after their daughter was allegedly accosted for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance while she was walking to class instead of stopping to reciting it.
Marissa Barnwell, the student, said during a news conference on Thursday that she was walking quietly to her class at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina and decided not to stop walking to recite the pledge or a moment of silence. A teacher at the school allegedly yelled at her, confronted her, and pushed her against a wall nearby.
“I was just in disbelief,” Barnwell said, recalling that she told the teacher “Get your hands off of me.”
Barnwell, who’s 15-years-old, was sent to the principal’s office afterward, which she described as humiliating because she thought she was in trouble.
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After the meeting, the principal sent Barnwell back to class, but didn’t let her know that the teacher was wrong for accosting her and pushing her into a wall for not stopping to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I was completely and utterly disrespected,” Barnwell said, according to The State newspaper. “No one has apologized, no one has acknowledged my hurt. … The fact that the school is defending that kind of behavior is unimaginable.”
Barnwell’s parents have filed a lawsuit against the River Bluff High School teacher, principal, Lexington School District 1, as well as the South Carolina Education Department in federal court, stating that their daughter’s First Amendment and civil rights were violated.
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The South Carolina legislature passed a law over 30 years ago requiring schools in the state to play the Pledge of Allegiance at a certain time each day, but also prohibits punishment for students who refuse to recite the pledge, given they are not being disruptive.
Tyler Bailey, the family’s attorney, said that students should be able to exercise their constitutional rights.
“The thing that’s beautiful about America is we have freedoms,” Bailey said. “Students in our schools should feel safe, they should not be feel threatened for exercising their constitutional rights.”
Lexington School District 1 said in a statement that its attorney is writing a response to the lawsuit, but didn’t provide additional comment.
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The teacher and principal allegedly involved in the incident are still employed at the school, according to its website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.