Pledging Allegiance to Free Speech
Two weeks ago, if you told 15 year-old Enidris Siurano-Rodriguez that artists such as Ricky Martin and Calle 13 would be tweeting about her right to free speech - she would never have believed it.
But that's exactly what happened.
Enidris Siurano-Rodriguez, a 10th grader, is an honor roll student and talented violinist. Since the seventh grade, she has chosen to sit quietly during the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, as a way of showing her disagreement with United States government's policies towards Puerto Rico. She did so, without incident, until this year.
It began in February, when Enidris' first period Honors Biology teacher started directing her to stand each morning during the Pledge of Allegiance. Enidris complied, not by choice, but only because she was specifically directed to do so by her teacher. On April 4, Enidris was sent to the Principal's office where the Assistant Principal improperly demanded to know why she persisted in sitting during the Pledge. Enidris explained that her actions stemmed from her feelings about United States government policies towards Puerto Rico, where her family is from. The Assistant Principal belittled Enidris' reasoning and background, and concluded by stating that while Enidris did not need to recite the Pledge, she needed to stand while it was said. The Assistant Principal also called Enidris's mother, and said that if Enidris persisted in sitting during the Pledge, she would be removed from class while it was recited. The next day, Enidris' teacher again directed her to stand for the Pledge. Enidris silently remained seated. Afterwards, yet another teacher harassed Enidris, trying to intimidate her by saying he previously had students removed from his class for the same reason.
This treatment is unconstitutional. Enidris was exercising her well-established First Amendment right to quietly sit during the Pledge [LINK TO PRESS RELEASE WITH DETAILS]. And the fact that school officials would violate her rights in order to defend a symbol of freedom is deeply ironic.
Enidris' case has become so widely known in Puerto Rico that stars like Ricky Martin and Calle 13 have tweeted in support of her.
Ricky Martin wrote the following two tweets, which were sent out to 8.5 million followers:
Calle 13, another extremely well known artist, encouraged his 4.9 million followers to:
"Read the case of the Puerto-Rican student Enidris Siurano-Rodriguez":
Unfortunately, this is not the first time such an instance has occurred in Montgomery County Public Schools. In fact, in recent years, the ACLU of Maryland has received multiple complaints from students who have been harassed for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2010, the ACLU took action on behalf of a 13 year-old at Roberto Clemente Middle School whose teacher on different occasions demanded that she stand for the Pledge, instead of sitting quietly, and then ordered her to leave the classroom, threatened to give her detention, and called a school security officer to remove her from class.
In addition to that incident, we heard from families in 2008, 2010, and 2012 reporting similar harassment of their children at Takoma Park Middle School, Northwood High School, Rolling Terrace Elementary School, and Gaithersburg High School, though each of these cases was resolved by the families' own communications with higher level school officials. Indeed, over the last decade we have received more complaints about this issue from Montgomery County than any other jurisdiction in the state.
In media statements, Montgomery County officials appear to strongly support this First Amendment right. So, why does the problem continue?
The ACLU of Maryland has requested a meeting with the Montgomery County Schools Superintendant, the officials at Damascus High School, and the County School Board to resolve this matter.
With the backing of the Bill of Rights and Ricky Martin, we are hoping, once and for all, to ensure that the right to freedom of speech will be protected and honored in public schools in Montgomery County and across the state.