Threats no deterrent to teacher who stepped on flag while teaching First Amendment lesson
Posted September 22, 2016
Fayetteville, N.C. — History teacher Lee Francis stands by his emphatic way of teaching his students about the First Amendment.
"I believe it was very productive," he said. "This was a teachable method that I utilized in my classroom."
Francis stepped on an American flag to demonstrate to his students that desecration of the flag, while an uncomfortable sight for many, is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.
"What I was trying to convey to my students is (that) freedom of speech is more than something that's verbal, it's more than something that can be written down. Freedom of speech also includes the burning of the flag," Francis said.
"These are kinds of methods that the court has called symbolic speech – and I think that’s something they need to be aware of, and I think that’s exactly what the students understood in that lesson."
When a photo from the classroom went viral, parents pushed back.
In the days since the lesson, Francis says he's gotten threats in phone calls, emails and on social media. Francis says school district employees have also been the target of threats.
"I don't consider myself a martyr by any means, but innocent folks in this community, in this school system, should not have been receiving threats of violence and verbal abuse," he said.
Francis has reported the threats to police, but he stands by the lesson.
"I'm not afraid," he said. "I'm not going to run and hide. I'm going to stand firm in what I believe and what I think was a very appropriate lesson."
Francis was suspended from the classroom after school officials learned of the lesson. He met Thursday with Superintendent Dr. Frank Till Jr., who said in a statement, "Clearly there are other ways to teach First Amendment rights without desecrating a flag."
Till made no decision about Francis' status on Thursday. Francis, who grew up in Cumberland County, hopes to soon be back doing what he loves in his hometown: teaching.
The Cumberland County district attorney is not charging Francis with any crime. While flag desecration is a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the district attorney said a Supreme Court decision -- the very one Francis was teaching his class about -- overrides state law.