Washington Redskins players knelt during the national anthem before Sunday's game.
Washington Redskins players knelt during the national anthem before Sunday's game.

HISD Won't Stop Students From Protesting (Or Not Protesting) National Anthem

If students in the Houston Independent School District want to kneel during the national anthem, the district will not stop them.

HISD released a statement on Thursday that while "it has been a tradition" at sporting events for athletes and fans to stand during the national anthem, the district will not, and cannot, interfere with any students who choose to kneel.

The district's board policies explicitly protect the constitutional rights of student-athletes to peacefully protest, HISD said. It noted that a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, prohibits schools from forcing students to salute the flag (in that case the two students were Jehovah's Witnesses who refrained from saluting the flag as a sign of solidarity with Jehovah's Witnesses who were being prosecuted in Nazi Germany).

"HISD will not mandate nor interfere in the actions of student athletes in observing or not observing the tradition of standing during the national anthem," the statement said.

After multiple media requests about the district's stance on demonstrations during the anthem, HISD decided to release a statement, spokesman Tracy Clemons said. Similarly, Katy ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Spring ISD and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD all reflected similar stances on demonstrations, each reiterating that they typically play the anthem before sporting events but do not require students to participate or punish those who do not.

Other organizations have veered the other way. A youth sports league in Cypress announced that while it doesn't always play the anthem before games, if the anthem is played, players, coaches and spectators will stand and face the flag. Any who refuse "shall subject themselves and/or their team to punishment that may include expulsion and forfeiture of the game," the league announced on its website. In Louisiana, a high school gained national attention after it sent a letter saying that those who do not stand during sporting events will face suspension or removal from sports teams.

To date, HISD is unaware of any protests during sporting events this year and has not received any complaints from students or parents, Clemons said.

The issue of athletes kneeling during the anthem broke into the national narrative last weekend after players across the National Football League knelt during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" in response to comments from President Donald Trump, who said players who knelt should be fired. Ironically, the number of players kneeling, which originally started with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 season, grew exponentially after Trump's comments.

HISD's full statement can be found below:

"It has been a tradition at HISD athletic events for participants and fans alike to stand in honor of the American flag and the playing of the National Anthem at the beginning of such contests. HISD also protects the constitutional right of student athletes, as set forth explicitly in HISD Board Policy FNA (LEGAL), not to participate in that tradition.

Specifically, the long standing United States Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette held that students may not be compelled to participate in patriotic observances, which include standing, saluting and reciting the pledge of allegiance. Accordingly, HISD will not mandate nor interfere in the actions of student athletes in observing or not observing the tradition of standing during the national anthem."

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