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Symbolic Freedom of Speech

Photo courtesy of CNN

photo courtesy of CNN

Lee Francis, a teacher of history at Massey Hill Classical High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was suspended in September and removed from the classroom. One might automatically assume that a teacher who has received such discipline has had an allegation of direct harm to students. Some might even assume that a teacher receiving such discipline has falsified documentation, cheated on a professional exam or assisted students in cheating.

In Lee Francis’s case, his crime is simply stepping on the American flag. The suspension came four days after Francis taught 26 students in a junior-level American History class. Francis' lesson touched on events that shaped America, including freedom of speech. According to Francis, his students had a difficult time understanding the symbolic form of freedom of speech. In the middle of his lesson he went to a storage closet in his classroom and retrieved the flag, Francis noted.

During the lesson, Francis held the flag and asked students if they had a lighter or a pair of scissors - the questions were posed facetiously, Francis said.

He dropped the flag and stepped on it two to three times while discussing the 1989 Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson; it upheld flag desecration as protected by the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

The act prompted two students to leave the classroom. Another student in the classroom snapped a picture of Francis standing by the crumpled flag and posted it on social media.

Francis, who was first suspended without pay has been reassigned to work at the school's system's operations building until the school board votes on his permanent fate today. The superintendent is recommending this teacher be removed from the classroom permanently and terminated.

The teacher is being punished unjustly for attempting to educate his students on their first amendment rights. The very students that walked out probably do not realize that their constitutional rights allow them to disagree with him. It is ironic that the student that recorded his teaching lesson and posted it on social media is not being punished. The district has rules against the use of cell phones during the school day. Furthermore, the same district recently placed a Caucasian teacher back in the classroom after using racial slurs in front of other students. However, Mr. Francis, who is 25, and has a master’s degree, remains in a warehouse performing manual labor.

The Cumberland County Board of Education will vote today on the superintendent’s recommendation. Every educator in America should be outraged by this story!

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