Teacher Was Suspended for His Lesson on the First Amendment

September 23rd 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

A Fayetteville, North Carolina teacher was put on paid leave for giving his students a lesson in free speech, which included stepping on the American flag.

Teacher steps on the flag to teach about the First Amendment.

The suspension came after a student posted a photo of teacher Lee Francis stepping on the flag during a lesson about the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Texas. v. Johnson. The ruling in that case determined flag burning and flag desecration are protected as free speech.

The ruling, which protected Gregory Lee Johnson, will also ensure Francis isn't charged under North Carolina's anti-flag desecration law. The local district attorney told the Fayetteville Observer on Wednesday that state charges for misdemeanor flag desecration are not enforceable because of the 1989 decision.

Francis and school administrators have received death threats.

"It's very unfortunate that innocent people who work within this system have received threats and are being verbally abused for actions they are not part of," Francis told the Observer. "That includes the people in the central office and folks around the county. This was never intended to have the fallout that it did, and it was never intended to have people suffering from the same treatment I am. It's completely inappropriate that these people are suffering as well."

Francis told the Observer that two students walked out of the class after the lesson, with one taking flag with him to ensure it was properly taken care of. However, the majority of students in the class of 26 said they were not offended, Francis said.

People on Twitter had passionate and opposing views on Francis' decision to step on the flag.

The national anthem and the flag have been at the center of controversial protests in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and shooting of black men. After his initial protest, which has continued for several weeks, Kepernick told NFL.com: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Francis' demonstration, however, appears not to have been a protest itself, but a lesson in the freedoms granted to all protesters, regardless of their feelings about the American flag.