South Carolina student claims she was assaulted for not saying pledge of allegiance

A South Carolina school is facing a federal lawsuit after a ninth-grade student alleged an employee assaulted her as she exercised her First Amendment right.

(Video: WLTX)

On Nov. 29, 2022, 15-year-old Marissa Barnwell can be seen on security footage walking through the hall of River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina when she is confronted by a school employee. According to Barnwell’s lawsuit filed Feb. 13, the employee was River Bluff instructional assistant Nicole Livingston who allegedly pushed the ninth-grader up against the wall when the student failed to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“She pushes me into a wall then she snatches my ID and she’s like she’s going to report me to the office,” Barnwell said at a press conference Thursday. “I’m just confused, I’m like ‘get your hands off of me, get your hands off of me.’ You can hear me say that in the video…I was just in disbelief, I had never expected something like that to happen to me.”

“I was completely and utterly disrespected,” the student said during the press conference, according to The State. “No one has apologized, no one has acknowledged my hurt…The fact that the school is defending that kind of behavior is unimaginable.”

The lawsuit named Livingston along with River Bluff Principal Jacob Smith, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, Lexington School District One and the South Carolina Department of Education and asserts that the plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated as she was singled out in the hallway where other students can clearly be seen walking at the time of the incident.

Joined by the child’s parents, Fynale and Shavell Barnwell, attorney Tyler Bailey contended, “The thing that’s beautiful about America is we have freedom; freedom of religion; freedom of expression; freedom of speech. Students in our schools should feel safe, they should not feel threatened for exercising their constitutional rights.”

Since the suit was filed, the school district has yet to offer a statement as their attorney is reportedly preparing a response to the lawsuit and the website still features Livingston as an employee in the Special Education Department. What is known is that school district policy states in relation to a 30-year-old law, “State law requires that all students say the Pledge of Allegiance at a specific time during each school day. Each school will designate this time. Any person who does not wish to say the Pledge of Allegiance does not have to participate. The district will not penalize him/her for failing to participate.”

“Any person who does not wish to participate may leave the classroom or remain in his/her seat. The person may express his/her non-participation in any form that does not materially infringe upon the rights of others or disrupt school activities,” the policy continued.

No dates have been announced as to when the next stage in the legal process will take place.


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