A Mississippi high school basketball player says he was suspended from school for not placing his hand over his heart while the national anthem played at a school event last week.
Chase Neal, a 16-year-old junior at Caledonia High School, told The Dispatch that he and some teammates were taking part in a slam-dunk contest and fundraiser for the school’s basketball program in the gymnasium the night of Oct. 23.
When the anthem was played, all of the players, including Neal, stood and faced the flag. However, Neal and three of his teammates opted to put their hands behind their backs rather than place their right hands over their hearts.
Neal told the news site that the hand position was not part of a protest—at least, not on his part.
However, the following day at school, he says, he was approached by his principal, Andy Stevens, who reprimanded him about the matter. On Wednesday, Neal said, he was taken out of his first-period class and put in in-school suspension without an explanation. After Neal kicked up a fuss over being told to copy the encyclopedia while in in-school suspension, he was suspended from campus for three days.
Neal says that he is still trying to figure out exactly what caused his issues at school in the first place, but is fairly convinced that it had to do with his stance during the anthem.
“Our coach had told us before the [event] we could either put our hands on our hearts or behind our backs during the anthem,” Neal told The Dispatch. “I didn’t mean it as any type of rebellious activity. I wasn’t even really thinking about it when I did it.”
When asked about those instructors, head boys’ basketball coach Gary Griffin acknowledged that he told the team to stand, but did not clarify what he said about their hands.
Neal told the news outlet that he also believes his race may have played into why he was suspended.
“I do think if this [involved a student] of a different color, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
School officials, of course, deny that his suspension had anything to do with the anthem, and noted that all four players are black but that Neal was the only one who was disciplined.
School Superintendent Lynn Wright told The Dispatch that Neal was disciplined for classroom issues unrelated to the anthem. Wright said that Neal was given in-school suspension for disobeying a teacher Wednesday morning, before being suspended from campus for failing to do his assignment while in that suspension.
Wright did acknowledge, however, that the principal spoke to all four students who stood with their hands behind their backs during the anthem, but added, “My understanding is [the principal] just conveyed to them what the expectations are. ... No one was disciplined for it.”
Students, Wright said, are expected to stand, remove their hats and place their hands on their hearts during the anthem.
“That’s the same thing that’s in the Mississippi High School Athletics Association statement they ask us to read at every game,” Wright added.
That being said, Wright also acknowledged that an early October girls’ volleyball game—where seven visiting Starkville High School players kneeled for the anthem—prompted the school district to be proactive in ensuring that students respect the flag.
According to The Dispatch, school board attorney Jeff Smith actually attempted to write a policy that would require everyone, including spectators, to stand for the anthem at school functions, but because the board is actually not filled with lunatics, that did not fly.
So, since there’s no official policy for school officials to use to twist students’ arms, Wright said that the district is now attempting to use an existing rule that requires students to obey any instruction from a teacher, administrator or other authority figure while at school functions unless the instruction is “unreasonable, illegal, unethical” or compromises student safety.
And if that is not a twisted use of power, well, I’m not sure what is.
“When you disrespect the flag, you disrespect your government,” Wright said. “And since our government is ‘By the people, for the people,’ when we don’t honor our government, we dishonor ourselves. ... The government pays for the bleachers we sit on, the [school] buildings, the teachers’ salaries. For 75 percent of our students, the government is even paying for the meals they eat at school.”
Wright also said that he had requested teachers in all districts to show students a documentary on the origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well as a YouTube video titled, “The Ragged Old Flag,” narrated by Johnny Cash.
Even though, at this point, everyone should have a basic knowledge of First Amendment rights and the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled, way back in 1943, that students cannot be disciplined for declining to participate in religious or patriotic ceremonies, both Wright and Smith say that doesn’t apply to extracurricular activities.
And even if that’s not true (which it definitely is not, but onward we go), Wright said that it wouldn’t be a problem in this school district.
“Fortunately, living here in the South, we tend to honor God and honor our country,” he said. “Our students understand that, and a lot of them have family serving in the military.”
Wright insisted that there was a time and place for everything, including protesting the national anthem.
“We respect everybody’s right to free speech, but a lot of this is about reasonable expectation,” he said. “For example, if you go to the beach, you might see a man with his shirt off or a woman wearing a swimsuit. But you’re not going to see them dressed like that at church because, even if it’s not illegal, there’s a reasonable expectation.
“Certain speech is unacceptable in certain places,” he added.
Read more at The Dispatch.