Lee Francis, a teacher of history at a Fayetteville school has made history in his own unique way. The teacher was giving a class at Massey Hill Classical High School a lesson about free speech when he decided to step on the American flag. He tried to burn the flag and cut it before placing it on the ground and stepping on it with his right foot, telling the students that that was an example of free speech. However, his action has caused uproar. He has been suspended pending an investigation.
Cumberland County Schools Superintendent, Frank Till Jr., said that the teacher could have used other methods to teach his students about the First Amendment rights without desecrating a flag. He met with the teacher Thursday to talk about his job. In the meantime, Francis has been suspended without pay for 10 days. The school district had earlier suspended him with pay for 90 days.
Part of the amendment states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” among other rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has tried to define some words and actions that either do or do not constitute free speech. For example, the Federal Courts website states that people have the rights not to speak or salute the flag and engage in symbolic speech such as burning an American flag in protest.
Francis’ picture stepping on the flag was placed online, and it has since gone viral. The picture was taken by Alex Dunn, a student who went and picked the flag before walking out in protest. People have compared the teacher to a pedophile, and he has received death threats since the picture went viral.
However, Francis has defended his action, stating that that was what the amendment was about. He stated that people had the right to stand up and say what they did not agree with; that the right to protest was a perfect example of what education was all about. He went on to explain that he greatly respected the people in the military, some of whom were his relatives, as well as people’s rights and privileges.
Dr. Till said that not only were the teacher’s actions inappropriate but he made the situation more hurtful by the comments he gave to the media.
On the other hand, veteran Attorney Allen Rogers said that the community was missing the point of the teacher’s lesson. He explained that while he would not want to find anyone desecrating the flag in any way, Francis’ action was an illustration conducted in a classroom.
The Civic teacher’s lesson on the Bill of Rights touching on the Texas v. Johnson case that upheld the constitutional right to burn the flag. Gregory Lee Johnson had burned a flag as a way of protesting against President Ronald Reagan’s policies. He was tried and convicted by a Texas Court, but he appealed. The Supreme Court agreed that his action had constituted “symbolic Speech” that the First Amendment protected.