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Appeals court hears case of student disciplined over Pledge of Allegiance

By The Associated Press
07.01.02

Editor’s note: In a 118-page opinion on May 28, 2004, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Holloman’s lawsuit that claims his First Amendment rights were violated when he was punished, by paddle, for refusing to state the Pledge of Allegiance and instead raised his fist in defiance four years prior.

ATLANTA — A federal appeals court heard arguments June 28 on whether an Alabama school system had the right to discipline a student who stood silently with his fist raised rather than recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The student, Michael Holloman, a high school senior from Parrish, Ala., who has since graduated, was spanked three times with a wooden paddle and given a written reprimand.

The case was argued before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta only days after another federal appeals court panel — the 9th Circuit — ruled last week that the pledge is unconstitutional because of the words "under God."

The attorney for the school board in Walker County, Ala., told the 11th Circuit judges that Holloman was punished two years ago for disrupting class, not for refusing to say the pledge.

"He acted out, and he has attempted to cloak his behavior in the First Amendment," attorney Russell Robertson said.

Robertson said a teacher sent Holloman to the principal's office after receiving several complaints from other students who said they were unable to say the pledge because of Holloman's actions.

But Holloman's lawyer, Charles Tatum, said his client did not disrupt the class. He said raising a fist in the air was a form of speech, similar to placing a hand over your heart when saying the pledge.

"You've got a right to disagree with things that are seen as morally and politically correct in this country," Tatum said.

Holloman was not present during the June 28 arguments.

Court papers say a Walker County school board policy requires students to say the pledge and salute the flag during the day's first class. The policy also requires students to sit through "prayer requests" and a moment of silence.

The suit, filed two years ago in federal court, said Walker County's policy of requiring the pledge violated students' rights of free speech, expression and freedom of religion.

Holloman is appealing a federal judge's decision last year to dismiss the case.

Tatum said the case differs from the one considered by the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

"This issue in our case is related to whether a student can be punished for refusal to say the pledge more so than the issue of whether the pledge is constitutional," Tatum said.


Update
Alabama county, former student settle Pledge lawsuit
Walker County agrees to pay $70,000 to Michael Holloman to settle claim officials violated First Amendment by punishing him for raising his fist during oath. 12.08.04

Related

Lawmakers push to make pledge mandatory in schools

Supporters say requiring students to recite Pledge of Allegiance will inspire patriotism, but opponents argue patriotism can't be mandated. 03.03.02

Federal appeals panel's Pledge decision draws fiery criticism

Many predict ruling that takes issue with phrase 'one nation under God' either will be reversed by full 9th Circuit or overturned by Supreme Court. 06.27.02

Constitutional crossroads: where 'under God' meets 'justice for all'
By Ken Paulson Pledge of Allegiance's religious phrase shouldn't have been inserted in 1954, but in 2002 it's a little late to change it. 06.28.02

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