Washington, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) call on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to immediately investigate Kennesaw State University’s (KSU) retaliation against members of the school cheerleading squad who chose to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police violence against African Americans.
KSU’s actions in response to the peaceful protest—undertaken at the urging of state and local government officials—threaten the constitutional rights of these students.
On September 30th, several cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem at a KSU football game. In the days that followed, news reports show, local Sheriff Neil Warren and State Representative Earl Ehrhart—the chair of the committee overseeing KSU’s budget—contacted KSU President Sam Olens to stifle the protests. Representative Ehrhart reportedly described the protests as “repugnant and hateful.” Since their urging, the University has prevented the cheerleaders from being on the field during the national anthem. Students, community members, and the SCLC have held multiple rallies and marches around campus in support of the cheerleaders’ free speech rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently protected the First Amendment rights of students, observing that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” For over 70 years, the Court has held that it is illegal for public schools, like KSU, to punish students for refusing to participate in forced patriotic ceremonies like the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem. Denying the cheerleading squad the opportunity to be present during our national anthem unless they comply with President Olens’ preferred method of observance is not an act of patriotism; it is an act of retaliation.
“These students embody the best patriotic ideals of our nation,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They are striving to civically engage with their community and improve our nation by taking a knee to peacefully protest police violence against African Americans.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the SCLC wrote to the Board of Regents to request an immediate investigation into this matter, demand that KSU cease any disciplinary or retaliatory action against the cheerleaders, and seek assurance that the University will fully respect the constitutional rights of its students.
Read the full letter here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.