Federal court rules California high school student can’t be forced to stand for national anthem

The student at the center of the lawsuit is a Native American football player.


A federal court ruled that a California high school can’t force its football players to stand for the national anthem, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

The court ruling bars the San Pasqual Valley Unified School District from setting rules that prohibit “kneeling, sitting or similar forms of political protest” at sports events and require students and coaches to “stand and remove hats/helmets… during the playing or singing of the National Anthem,” according to a December 21 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

The school district set its rules after a Native American high school football player — identified as V.A. in court documents — took a knee during the national anthem ahead of a game between rival teams from California and Arizona. V.A. was protesting racial injustice in the United States in the same way NFL players kneel before national anthems to protest police brutality and racism.

V.A.’s action sparked students at the rival Mayer High School in Spring Valley, Arizona to shout racial slurs. They also threatened to force him to stand. One San Pasqual Valley cheerleader was soaked by a water bottle. Mayer High School is majority white; San Pasqual Valley is majority Native American and Latinx. In response, San Pasqual Valley school superintendent Rauna Fox passed a rule prohibiting protests. She also required students and coaches to remove their hats and helmets and stand for the national anthem.


The federal court’s temporary injunction — which allows students to resume protests — states that the school violated V.A.’s First Amendment right to political expression. It also said that schools can curb these expressions when they threaten to disrupt the educational mission. The court agreed with the claims of V.A.’s lawsuit that “public school students have constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression that they do not shed at the schoolhouse gate, on the playing field, or on the basketball court.”

“We are pleased with this outcome,” Katie Traverso, an attorney who argued on behalf of V.A., said in a news release, stating that the lawyers would now seek a permanent injunction. “Students like our client who conscientiously carry their values and ideals with them, cannot be silenced or directed on what to say or not say by their school in this manner.”

NFL players have knelt ahead of national anthems to protest racial injustice, acts of civil disobedience that have sparked national discussion over whether players are “properly expressing their grievances or disrespecting veterans and the flag,” the Los Angeles Times explained. President Donald Trump has also weighed in, criticizing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is credited for inspiring nationwide silent protests.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired,’ ” Trump said in September.