Student's Mexican Pledge Claims Fail at 5th Cir.

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By Melissa Heelan Stanzione

Aug. 9 — A high-school student's claim that her constitutional rights were violated when she was compelled to recite the Mexican pledge of allegiance for Spanish class were thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Aug. 9 ( Brinsdon v. McAllen Ind. Sch. Dist., 5th Cir., No. 15-40160, 8/9/16 ).

School officials didn't violate Brenda Brinsdon's clearly established constitutional rights, Judge Leslie H. Southwick wrote for the court. They were therefore entitled to qualified immunity.

Pledge Recitation Refused

Brinsdon refused to recite the pledge and was allowed to complete an alternative assignment.

However, she videotaped her class's recitation and shared the tape with the news media. After that, she was removed from class to complete the course by self studying in the school principal's office.

She sued her teacher, the principal and the school district, alleging primarily that her First Amendment rights were violated when she was “compelled” to recite the pledge, the court said.

But student disagreement with a curricular choice doesn't rise to the level of a First Amendment violation, and “there is no clearly established law about the compelled speech of a pledge of simulated beliefs,” the Fifth Circuit said.

The pledge was part of a cultural and educational exercise and the assignment was a one-time event, the court said.

There is no evidence the exercise was “to foster Mexican nationalism,” it said.

Schools Can Compel Speech

“[I]t is clearly established that a school may compel some speech. Otherwise, a student who refuses to respond in class or do homework would not suffer any consequences,” the Fifth Circuit said.

The court also found that there's no clearly established law that the disruptions Brindson's videotape and media appearances caused “were insufficient to justify removing her from class,” the court said.

Judges W. Eugene Davis and Edward C. Prado joined the opinion.

The Thomas More Law Center represented Brinsdon. Atlas, Hall & Rodgriguez, LLP represented the defendants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com

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