NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Two Louisiana high school students who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance got more than just attention for their expression of free speech. It got them in trouble with administrators.
"Even if it is a bandwagon effect it doesn't matter. The law protects students no matter what, whether their reasons are good or bad. It's not for anybody to judge that," Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman said.
After the two students registered complaints with the ACLU, Esman sent a letter to all Louisiana school superintendents demanding that students' right to free speech remain protected without fear of punishment.
"When anybody's Constitutional rights are violated, we all have to worry. That's our obligation as members of a free society," Esman said. "[The students received] detention, write ups, that kind of thing, and this comes up from time to time. This is not the first year. Of course, it's a hot topic now."
Not standing for the pledge comes after some NFL players staged protests prior to games by kneeling or sitting during the national anthem, saying they were opposing what they called social injustice in America.
Many people find both displays offensive.
"My brother died, my grandfather died fighting for this country, and I don't feel like this is the way to show it when I lose two people. We're setting bad examples for our children," pledge supporter Nicci Isabella said.
"Are they doing it because they thought it was cool, an NFL player did it, or are they doing it because they want to bring change through conversation? If they're doing it because they want to bring change through conversation, then talk to people," pledge supporter Tony Walker said. "It's better to engage in a dialogue than to poke someone in the eye."
But even those who disagree believe discipline from the schools was uncalled for.
"Disciplining somebody for something they don't understand is not the way to do it. They're not going to learn," Isabella said.
"Would I, at home, discipline my child if they did that? Absolutely, but that's a parental decision," Walker said. "That's not something that the school, which is an extension of the government, should do, quite frankly."
This week, administrators with Loyola University in New Orleans are suggesting that professors take time out at the end of class to discuss the issue of racial justice. The open discussion is an effort to focus on the divide that is growing on both sides of the argument in order to reach some common ground.
"There is always room to grow, always room for progress, and I do think in the long haul we will be able to come together and think about these issues. But it's not a task that will happen overnight," Loyola University History Professor Ashley Howard said.
Three different court rulings give American students the right to engage in silent protest or not salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance, according to the ACLU.
Esman said she would not release the names of the schools involved to protect the children from any sort of retaliation.