Students Sue Walker Schools Over Flag Pledge


07/21/00
VAL WALTON News staff writer
The Birmingham News

Two students have sued Walker County school officials, saying they were punished for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the U.S. flag.

The lawsuit, filed July 3 in federal court, claims Michael Holloman and John Michael Hutto were confronted by Parrish High School officials after the two chose not to say the pledge or salute the flag on separate occa sions last May.

Hutto's Baptist faith prohibits idol worship, according to the suit. Holloman chose to raise his right fist in protest rather than say the pledge, the suit said.

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Court papers said the Walker County school board implemented a policy requiring Parrish High School students to say the pledge and salute the flag during the day's first class. The policy also requires students sit through "prayer request" and moment of silent prayer each morning before classes start, according to the suit. The suit doesn't say when the policy began, and efforts to reach Walker County Superintendent Alan Trotter failed Thursday. The lawsuit said the policy violates the students' rights of free speech, expression and freedom of religion.

Efforts to reach plaintiffs' lawyers Charles C. Tatum Jr. and Roderick Graham were unsuccessful Thursday.

Named as defendants are the Walker County Board of Education, Parrish Principal George Harland, Assistant Principal Jason Adkins and Fawn Allred, a Parrish teacher.

Russell B. Robertson, a board attorney, declined comment.

The suit seeks class-action status for students in similar situations.

According to the lawsuit, Hutto refused to say the pledge May 16 during his first period class with Ms. Allred, but was not reprimanded immediately. Hutto was called to Harland's office several times, where Harland and Ms. Allred questioned him about his actions, according to the lawsuit.

The suit said Harland and Ms. Allred upbraided Hutto and forced him to promise to apologize in class.

Court papers said that on May 17, Holloman and another student, Anthony Brown, chose to extend their right fists in the air instead of saying the pledge and saluting.

The students were called into the principal's office, where they were ordered to serve three days in detention before they would be allowed to graduate, according to the suit.

The suit said Holloman and Brown were told the only way they could receive diplomas on graduation night was if their parents agreed to the boys' corporal punishment.

The suit says Holloman and Brown received corporal punishment and were written up for inciting student disorder - a charge placed in their permanent records.

The two also were required to apologize to Ms. Allred and the senior class twice, according to the suit.

The case, assigned to U.S. District Judge William Acker Jr., seeks compensatory and punitive damages and trial by jury.

The religious freedom case is not the board's first.

Last year, an 11-year-old Curry Middle School student sued the school board, claiming the dress code prohibited her from wearing her cross necklace as a sign of her faith. The case was settled, and the girl was allowed to wear her cross.


2000 The Birmingham News. Used with permission.
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