When Klein Oak High student Mari Oliver refused to take the oath of allegiance, her sociology professor, Benjie Arnold, compared her to “Soviet communists” and “people who tolerate pedophilia” before threaten to “give it up”. Arnold’s misconduct now appears to have indirectly cost Texas taxpayers $90,000.
A Texas teacher who forced a student to write the Pledge of Allegiance has settled a civil rights lawsuit for $90,000.
According to NBC News, the deal was announced Wednesday by American Atheists, the organization that represented 12and student Mari Oliver.
Oliver, NBC News notes, filed a lawsuit against sociology professor Benjie Arnold at Klein Oak High School in Harris County, Texas, about 30 miles north of Houston.
“The Texas Association of School Boards, a risk pool funded by Texas school districts, paid $90,000 to resolve the case before trial,” American Atheists said in a statement.
The Texas Association of School Boards, like most similar organizations, is funded by the voluntary payment of membership dues by school districts, which are almost always subsidized by district taxpayers.
Oliver filed her lawsuit in 2017, claiming she was “harassed, disciplined and retaliated against for failing to take the oath of allegiance”.
In its complaint, American Atheists observed that Oliver “exercised his constitutional right to refuse to participate in the engagement because of his objection to the words ‘under God’ and his belief that the United States does not guarantee adequately “freedom and justice for all”, especially for people of color.
Oliver, NBC News adds, is African American.
Despite Oliver’s insistence that she not be required to recite the oath, her teacher forced her to write the Pledge of Allegiance under threat of academic discipline.
However, the United States Supreme Court had already ruled in 1943 that students could not be required to salute the American flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance if it went against their religious belief.
Texas law also allows students to file a written request to withhold the engagement.
If such a request is signed by a student’s parent or legal guardian, their school district and educators must honor it.
Although Oliver’s mother filed the application, her daughter continued to be bullied at school.
Her mother, says NBC News, temporarily took her out of school.
“When she returned, the discrimination she faced for abstaining from the Oath resumed and intensified,” the American atheists explain.
While the teachers were informed of Oliver’s decision, Arnold continued to act against his student.
When Arnold asked his students to write the Pledge of Allegiance, he told Arnold he would fail her if she refused to comply.
“What you did was leave me no choice but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity you want,” Arnold reportedly said.
Arnold was then recorded telling his students that he would “pay them to move to Europe”, but demand that they “repay him double” if they ever wished to return to the United States.
Ironically enough, Arnold compared Oliver and the students who refuse to recite the Pledge with “Soviet Communists, members of the Islamic faith seeking to impose Sharia and those who condone pedophilia”.
Geoffrey T. Blackwell, an advocate for American atheists, told NBC News that classrooms should be respected as places of education, not spaces for teachers to impose their politics on students.
“The classroom is not a pulpit. It’s a place of education, not indoctrination,” Blackwell said. “This regulation is a reminder that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the classroom.”
Randall Kallinen, another lawyer who worked on the case, observed the irony that teachers in Texas do not uphold the same principles that the Pledge strives to enshrine.
“It’s unbelievable how much time and money the Klein Independent School District has spent to prevent a student’s free speech,” Kallinen said. “School staff should teach the Constitution, not violate it.”
Teacher who tried to force student to write oath of allegiance settles lawsuit for $90,000
Texas teacher settles lawsuit with student he forced to write oath of allegiance