Leilani Thomas, a California high school student, was punished for not standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Although she has reportedly refused to observe the pledge since second grade, this is the first time a teacher has taken action, reports KXTV.
Her teacher at Lower Lake High School took points off her participation grade in reaction to the protest. Thomas, who is Native American, explained: “She told me I was being disrespectful and I was pretty mad ... She was being disrespectful to me also, saying I was making bad choices, and I don’t have the choice to sit during the pledge.”
Thomas said she sits during the pledge because her parents told her about the negative connotation that it has for them and their heritage.
The pledge is controversial among Native Americans especially because of its historical link to Columbus Day, which celebrates a man considered by many to have initiated the genocide of the indigenous population of the continent.
The pledge was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the “New World,” explains Smithsonian magazine. Soon after, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day a federal holiday.
By 1942, when Congress adopted it as part of a national flag code, reciting the pledge was mandatory in many public schools, but it has since been challenged many times.
In 1943, the Jehovah's Witnesses took the issue to court, claiming the pledge violated their religious beliefs. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The addition of the words "under God" in 1954, which was officially signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower, added to the controversy.
Regarding the case of Thomas, the superintendent of her school district, Donna Becnel, is backing her First Amendment right to sit during the pledge. “They have the same rights when they walk into the schoolhouse than anybody else does,” Becnel told KXTV.
Meanwhile, controversy involving another patriotic American tradition continues to grow, as athletes protest racial injustice by refusing to stand during the national anthem before sporting events.