High schools in the United States have made a series of controversial decision regarding the free speech of their students — giving a Nazi salute won’t lead to a suspension in Wisconsin, but kneeling during the national anthem will lead to one in Louisiana.
This week, a Wisconsin high school at the center of a national controversy decided that male students who appeared to give a Nazi salute in a junior prom photo will not be punished for it. As Newsweek reported, the picture showed close to 60 boys from Baraboo High School raising their arm in an apparent Nazi salute. The picture caused quite a stir after being posted to Twitter, with the photographer claiming that the students were asked to wave goodbye to their parents — a claim that was disputed by some of the students in the photo.
But in a letter to parents this week, Baraboo Superintendent Lori Mueller said that the students have the right to free expression under the First Amendment — even if that expression happens to be a Nazi salute.
“We cannot know the intentions in the hearts of those who were involved,” she wrote. “Moreover, because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”
Meanwhile, a number of other schools and school districts have decided that the First Amendment rights of students do not apply to taking a knee during the national anthem. As the New York Times reported, several districts across the country took action in the wake of Donald Trump’s criticism of NFL players who take a knee to protest police brutality against people of color.
In Long Island, the Diocese of Rockville Center, which runs the private Catholic schools, said students would face “serious disciplinary action” if they took a knee during the national anthem before sporting events.
Other public schools in Louisiana issued similar edicts to students. In Bossier Parish, district superintendent Scott Smith said students who took a knee during the national anthem could be kicked off their teams.
“It is a choice for students to participate in extracurricular activities, not a right, and we at Bossier Schools feel strongly that our teams and organizations should stand in unity to honor our nation’s military and veterans,” he said in a letter obtained by the New York Times.
The principal of Parkway High School in Bossier City, Louisiana, also sent a letter to athletes and parents saying they would be required to stand “in a respectful manner” during the national anthem.