Just as the 2011 school year began, Brenda Brinsdon, then a 15 year-old sophomore at Achieve Early College High School (AECHS) in McAllen Texas, was thrust into the national spotlight after she refused to stand up, extend her arms straight out with palms down and recite the Mexican Pledge of Allegiance and sing the Mexican National Anthem. Reyna Santos, the Spanish 3 teacher, required all her students to recite this allegiance to Mexico.
When the time came for the students to stand up and recite the Mexican pledge, Brenda Brinsdon refused. Brenda, born in the United States, is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and an American father. Brenda is fluent in Spanish and English and is proud of her Mexican heritage, but she is a true blooded American. So to Brenda, the words of the pledge have a deep meaning. Her conscience and patriotism would not allow her to participate in the assignment. She believed it was ‘un-American’ and she was exercising her constitutional right not to be forced to pledge allegiance to Mexico. The school punished her for her refusal.
As a result, the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Michigan, along with local Texas attorney Jerad Najvar, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Brenda and her father William Brinsdon claiming that school officials violated Brenda’s constitutional rights. Click here to read the federal lawsuit.
Ironically, the assignment to recite the Mexican pledge was given during the school’s celebration of Freedom Week, marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks and also on U.S. Constitution Day. According to the McAllen School District policy for Special Programs, social studies classes during Freedom Week were required to recite the text of the Declaration of Independence. However, excusals from recitation are granted for students who have a conscientious objection.
The longstanding Supreme Court decision, West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, (1943), and the school district’s own policy prohibit a school from compelling students to recite the American Pledge of Allegiance. However, the School District ignored those rules when Brenda Brinsdon refused to recite the Mexican pledge.
Brenda’s refusal was not well received by her teacher, Reyna Santos, or the school principal, Yvette Cavasos. Both tried to coerce her to recite the Mexican pledge, saying this was just an assignment. Brenda attempted to discuss reasons for her refusal to pledge allegiance to a country other than the United States with both Santos and Cavasos. When Brenda did not back down, she was punished.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), commented, “Too many Americans—including those of Mexican descent—have suffered and died protecting our nation. It’s astonishing that this Texas school would deny Brenda her right of conscience and free speech not to pledge allegiance to a foreign country. There is a sad trend in public schools across our nation to undermine American patriotism. But it’s encouraging to see students like Brenda stand up for America despite pressure from school officials.”
Santos gave Brenda an alternate assignment; write an essay on the Independence of Mexico. While performing above average on all previous assignments in the class, Brenda completed this assignment on time but was given a failing grade. She was also required to sit in class over the next several days and listen to student after student reciting the Mexican pledge.
Following the incident, Brenda was involuntarily removed from her Spanish class. She spent the class hour in the school’s office, even though she requested to return to the classroom. Brenda was also given a failing grade on her report card, which was later corrected.
Brenda videotaped the class on her cell phone and brought it home to show her father. Click here to see Brenda’s cell phone video. Mr. Brinsdon attempted to contact several school officials but he never received a return call.
The lawsuit claims the school district and school officials deprived Brenda of her right to freedom of speech and equal protection of the law by discriminating against and unjustly punishing her because of her viewpoint. The lawsuit names the McAllen Independent School District, AECHS Principal, and Spanish teacher Reyna Santos as defendants.