Unlike most people, Mari Leigh Oliver did not have a great high school experience. As a black girl attending Klein Oak High School, she felt like an outsider most of the time. A shocking event happened to her when she was in high school which showed her how racially divided America truly is. Her teacher’s reaction to Oliver not standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance demonstrated this vividly.

Oliver, a student in Texas, believed the Pledge of Allegiance was racist. Rather than recite it alongside her white classmates, she refused to participate. Even though the Constitution protects her from having to recite the Pledge, she was relentlessly bullied and attacked for not following along with everyone else. The harshest reality occurred during the spring 2017, when Oliver’s high school teacher made it evident that unless she stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, she wasn’t a “good girl.”

In 2017, Oliver explained in detail why she chose not to stand for the Pledge.

“We live in a country where there isn’t justice and freedom for all,” she stated, adding that the phrases “under God” and “liberty and justice for all” are especially hurtful to Blacks in America because they are not given these things.

At a 2017 press conference, she said: “I’m not going to stand for a pledge that says there is when there really isn’t.”

After fighting for years, Oliver finally received the support he needed from the Texas justice system. The court ruled that the Klein school district had violated Oliver’s rights by forcing her to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Houston Chronicle stated that the school- as well as Oliver’s teacher- did not act with “deliberate indifference” to the student’s rights.

In order to settle the case and put the issue in the past, Benjie Arnold – Oliver’s 75-year-old sociology teacher – has agreeably given her a $90,000 payout.

Although Arnold is named in the suit, the sociology teacher will not be expected to pay the fee. Instead, the Texas Association of School Boards has offered to pay for Arnold’s legal expenses. The TASB is a risk pool that’s funded by Texas school districts. It exists to provide protection in the event that legal trouble, as was the case with Arnold, arises from racist or other inappropriate behavior on the part of teachers.

After securing the settlement, Oliver’s attorney stated, “Teacher Benjie Arnold allegedly singled her out and retaliated against her for sitting out the Pledge. Although she was exempt from the Pledge under state law and teachers had been informed of this fact during a staff meeting, Arnold nonetheless required that she and her classmates write it. After she refused, Arnold told her and the rest of the class: ‘What you’ve done is leave me no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want.’”

What are your thoughts on students having the choice to pledge allegiance to the United States?