The recent controversy surrounding a young Black student at a Chicago suburban high school brings to mind a very historic case. According to CBS News, “Eisenhower High School, in Blue Island, has fired a driver’s education teacher who refused to let a student take lessons in his car, after the teen repeatedly sat for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Vince Ziebarth was fired after eight years at Community High School District 218, three of them at Eisenhower. He acknowledged telling 15-year-old Shemar Cooper he couldn’t take lessons in Ziebarth’s car if he continued sitting for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
But it is deeper than that…
Young Cooper refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at Eisenhower High School last fall and the teacher who reprimand him was disciplined. Then enters Mr. Ziebarth who teaches Drivers Ed at the school. About a month ago he told Shemar that as long as he was sitting for the Pledge, he wouldn’t be driving with Ziebarth.
“I believe the pledge is a sacred thing,” Ziebarth said. This statement makes it clear that his “religious” beliefs motivated his decision in a public space.
The school’s principal issued a statement…
“Eisenhower High School takes any allegations of violations of students rights seriously. We respect students’ First Amendment right to not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
The school properly responded with what the law states. Coincidentally, or maybe not, this month marks the 150th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford case, in which an Black slave sued for his freedom. This is where it gets even more interesting.
Brother Dred Scott’s argued that because he had been brought into free territories, he could not be returned to the bonds of slavery. Clever. Over the course of 11 years, courts litigated several times. Eventually the case landed at the United States Supreme Court.
On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney noted that the question before the Court was whether Blacks in America are citizens of the United States and thus able to file suit in federal court. His analysis of that issue is couched in abjectly racist language:
“[African Americans] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.”
This teacher attempted to prevent this young man from getting a driver’s license, a right that all able-bodied citizens enjoy. I applaud the high school for firing the teacher. This teacher felt his feelings about the Pledge were more important that the law. His firing was the right, lawful thing to do. It’s against the law to punish a student for refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance. He obviously felt the same as Justice Taney did some 160 years ago…that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
To be clear, some 74 years ago, in a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1943, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, the justices ruled that legally, no student in a public school had to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, and that forcing someone to recite it is a violation of the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
According to WGN, “Shemar’s position hasn’t changed. He’s still not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. His mother, Kelly Porter, says he’s been getting some abuse at school over Ziebarth’s dismissal, which she says wasn’t just appropriate, but necessary.
“Adults should not behave that way,” Porter said. “That’s childish. That’s really childish for him to say my son’s behaviors … let me correct myself, my son’s 1st Amendment right to sit doesn’t align with his beliefs.”
Some students at the school who support the driver’s education teacher who have launched a petition to get him reinstated, obviously feel the same way Judge Taney did in 1857.