Cierra Fields, a Fort Gibson high school student and member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, says she was removed from her classroom on Tuesday morning, February 28 after refusing to stand for or say the pledge of allegiance. Fields, a Champion for Change, anti-rape advocate and correspondent for ICMN, says soon after she said she would not participate, she received a verbal lashing from her teacher.
“After I said I was not going to participate, my teacher raised her voice and said she refused to educate ungodly and unpatriotic students. She was angry and told me that perhaps I needed to take an online course in lieu of the class,” said Fields.
“After I refused to pledge to the flag, my teacher removed me from class by taking me into the hallway in direct view of some of the students. My teacher questioned me and screamed at me about how her father missed a year of her life in Vietnam and how her husband was an Afghanistan war veteran,” Fields said.
Fields also said the teacher questioned Cierra’s potential disrespect toward her own father’s military service, a 10-year U.S. Army veteran.
“Not only has my family served in all branches of the military, they served for my right to not pledge and/or stand. I don’t stand or pledge because the flag is an idol and I consider pledging to an object idolatry. As a Native youth, I do not agree that there is liberty and justice for all people.”
“To tell me such a thing and bring into question my rights to take a stance is in direct violation of the First Amendment and West Virginia State School Board Vs. Barnette. Such behavior by a teacher also violates the Religious Freedom Act of 1978, as it questions my beliefs,” she said.
Fort Gibson principal Gary Sparks told ICMN no one was removed from class, and gave a contradictory account of the incident. He also told ICMN that understands that a student has the right to not stand for the flag ceremony and that students who do not wish to participate can come to the principal’s office to wait it out.
“We did not have any students removed from class for not standing. During third period, we always do the flag salute and the teacher just asked [Fields] why she didn’t want to. [The student] explained why she didn’t and asked if she could come down to the office, which she was allowed to do,” he said.
“Everyone has a right not to stand if they don’t want to. We have a couple of students who do that too; so they do that quietly while we do the flag salute and we just move on,” said Sparks.
“Everyone has their right to do what they need to do. That’s how America works.”
Cierra Field’s mother, Terri Henderson-Fields, told ICMN in an e-mail that she was upset and that that members of her family have served in the military. She also said the teacher bringing into question Cierra’s potential disrespect toward her own father’s military service by not doing the Pledge of Allegiance was unacceptable. “Cierra’s father Richard served the Army for 10 years. My father served in Vietnam. My father-in-law served in Korea. My grandfather served in WWII. We have given blood, sweat, tears and even lives for this country and Cierra’s right not to pledge.”
The Fields family has asked the school and the teacher to issue an apology. They have also asked for the Fort Gibson High School to consider a traditional Cherokee representative to attend or speak at the school’s graduation ceremony this summer, when Cierra Fields hopes to get her diploma.