A defiant first-year teacher in North Carolina who desecrated the American flag in front of the 26 students in his junior-level American History class told Fox News that he has no regrets and the student who took the photo of his action, which went viral, should be punished.
Lee Francis, a first year history teacher at Massey Hill Classical High School in Fayetteville, told Todd Starnes of Fox News, “Do I regret what I did? Absolutely not. Would I do it again? All I can say is I did it and I stand by it.” He then attacked the student, snapping, “There were some laws broken as far as photos of me taken that violate the county’s policies – and issues that could be considered defamation of character.” After claiming that the student “broke the law,” he added, “I believe that child does need to be punished in some way – absolutely. I can’t take a picture of them and in turn they cannot do the same of me.”
Fayetteville is the home of Fort Bragg, and is a hugely patriotic city.
The Fayetteville Observer reported that on Monday, Francis was teaching about Texas v. Johnson, which ruled flag desecration was protected by the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. According to WRAL, students said that Francis tried to burn and cut the flag, then dropped it to the floor before standing on it. At least two students walked out during the demonstration. Francis admitted, “I put the flag on the ground and I took two steps with my right foot and I said, ‘This is an example of free speech.’ Two students got up and left immediately with no word, no disruption at all … I assumed something had happened. One student came to where I was and took the flag from me.”
Francis said the student took the flag out of the class to be “properly taken care of,” after which he asked the students left in the class if they were offended. He asserted they said no.
A Facebook user, Sara Taylor, whose child has a friend in the class, posted the viral photo of Francis at a lectern with his foot on the flag. She wrote, “That flag might not mean anything to that teacher, but it means a lot to us and it means a lot to the family’s (sic) who had their service member come home to them in a casket with that flag draped over it.”
Francis defended his actions, saying:
But this is exactly what I teach: You don’t teach kids how to think or what to think; you teach them to go their own path. If they feel so convicted that this is their cause they’re going to stand for, I don’t blame them. It’s an upper-level school for those who aspire to go to college and in that regard, we have rigor and expectations, so I treat them as such. Not only was the demonstration warranted and justified based on the court, it’s warranted and justified in the rights we have. This is the law of the land upheld by the highest court. Freedom of speech is not just defined verbally by something you say or write down on paper, but something that can also be a physical action.
Francis insisted he was not showing disrespect to the military, arguing, “That was not the goal, that was not the point of the lesson. For me, it was about the First Amendment, teaching about the Bill of Rights, the beginning of what we call America.” He claimed that people who are upset about his actions are focusing on the fabric of the flag when they should focus on the “fabric of America … judging from this movement, those entitled to freedom of speech can say whatever they want as long as its approved by those on social media, to parents of children I don’t teach or to slander someone. My question to all those who are out there, and I pose this to my students, who is entitled to freedom of speech? Does everyone have access to the American Dream? Based on what I’ve experienced here, no.”
Supt. Frank Till, Jr. told WRAL bluntly, “There are other ways to teach First Amendment rights without desecrating a flag.”
“I believe that child does need to be punished in some way – absolutely.”
Teacher Lee Francis, after being photographed standing on the American flag
One parent blistered, “What that teacher did was a gut punch to all the military kids at that school. More so to the ones with deployed parents and unforgivably so to Gold Star kids who lost a parent who fought under that flag. It is indefensible.”
In North Carolina, flag desecration is a misdemeanor. Predictably, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina backed Francis; Mike Meno, an ACLU spokesman stated, “One of the reasons our country is great is that the Constitution gives people the right to free speech and expression, no matter how much others may disagree or be uncomfortable with the message. And that is certainly a lesson worth teaching. The very freedoms and principles that the American flag represents include the freedom to stomp on the flag.”
Francis has been placed on administrative leave.