She Rejected the Pledge in Class. Now, a $90K Settlement

Mari Oliver says Texas high school teachers pressured her to say, write pledge of allegiance
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2022 1:40 PM CDT
She Rejected the Pledge in Class. Now, a $90K Settlement
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/STILLFX)

It's not uncommon for kids to raise complaints of bullying in school—but one former Texas high school student claimed the bullying came from teachers as well as fellow students. Now, Mari Oliver has settled a federal lawsuit brought against her one-time sociology teacher for $90,000 after alleging he tried to pressure her to say or write the Pledge of Allegiance, reports the Washington Post. Per the 2017 suit filed by Oliver's mother—and since taken over by Oliver now that she's an adult—Oliver had for years declined to say the pledge in class at Klein Oak High School in Spring. She instead "respectfully sat" while others did. Her reasoning: She didn't think she should be forced to say the words "under God."

Oliver also stuck by her stance that she didn't believe she "[lives] in a country where there's justice and freedom for all," especially where Black Americans like herself are concerned, per Courthouse News. The complaint says she was mocked and harassed for years by students and teachers alike, with administrators offering "ineffective" remedies to the bullying. Right before her senior year, administrators finally told her teachers she didn't have to say the pledge. But per her suit, during the first month of school sociology professor Benjie Arnold asked Oliver's class to detail how they felt about the Bruce Springsteen song "Born in the USA" and to transcribe the pledge in a writing assignment. OIiver says she refused, drawing a squiggly line on the paper she handed in.

Her suit notes Arnold said anyone not turning in the assignment would get a zero, and that he compared people not saying the pledge to "Soviet communists" and "those who condone pedophilia." He disputes her account, saying his goal was "not to compel orthodoxy," but to show many people robotically say the pledge without thinking about its meaning. In 2020, a federal judge dismissed the family's complaint against the school district and other teachers at the high school, but it let the suit against Arnold stand. The Texas Association of School Boards, a risk pool funded by school districts throughout the state, will pay the settlement. Arnold has continued to teach at the high school. (More Pledge of Allegiance stories.)

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