Lee Francis wanted to make a point about free speech. And he did — it just didn’t play out quite as he intended.
The civics teacher from Massey Hill Classical High School in Fayetteville, N.C., was giving a lesson last week about the Bill of Rights that touched on Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court case upholding the constitutional right to burn the American flag.
To illustrate the landmark decision, Francis pulled out a full-size Star-Spangled Banner and laid it on the classroom floor.
“Does anybody have a lighter,” he asked the class. When no one responded, Francis stepped on the flag several times.
Two students stormed out. The others stayed for the rest of the lesson.
The demonstration caused such an uproar among parents and administrators that the school district launched an “investigation” into Francis’s conduct and on Tuesday placed him on paid administrative leave. He said he’s also received a barrage of hate mail and death threats.
But Francis is standing by his actions.
“Ironically enough, I feel like I was being a good American citizen by telling the students about the rights granted to them by the highest court in the country,” Francis told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday. “It saddens me that people have taken such a negative turn.”
Add Francis’s case to the ever-growing list of American flag controversies that have gained national attention in the weeks since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem last month.