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Woman files legal complaint against SBCC Board of Trustees over Pledge of Allegiance

Posted at 8:45 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-21 21:24:18-04

A woman has filed a lawsuit in response to protesters allegedly heckling her during a presentation calling to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance at the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees meetings back in January 2019.

The pledge was reportedly taken off the agenda in July 2018.

According to the complaint filed Monday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Celeste Barber is being named as the plaintiff in the case with individuals from the Santa Barbara Community College District Board of Trustees and others listed as the defendants.

The complaint is asking for declaratory relief and a jury trial over the alleged violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as a violation of the California Ralph M. Brown Act.

The complaint alleges that Barber tried to give a four-minute presentation about the reinstatement of saying the Pledge of Allegiance during a board meeting on January 24, 2019. It continues by saying Raeanne Napoleon, an instructor at Santa Barbara City College, began to heckle and interrupt Barber during her presentation.

According to the complaint, President of the Board of Trustees Robert Miller made no attempt to remove Napoleon and other protesters from the meeting during Barber’s attempt to petition the government.

The Santa Barbara City College Board policy says that a person can speak about an agenda item or any other matters in the realm of the items, according to the complaint.

It goes on to say Barber’s presentation ended up taking seven minutes and 35 seconds to finish as protesters continued to interrupt while Barber was speaking.

The complaint goes in to say none of the hecklers were removed by President Miller despite the continued disruption during the presentation.

It also claims Napoleon violated Barber’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech despite sourcing other lawsuits that decline the heckler’s veto and states it violated the Fourteenth Amendment of due process by allegedly depriving constitutional liberty and adequate procedural protections.

The complaint claims the Brown Act was violated as President Miller did not remove those who were disrupting the meeting as Barber was using her right to petition the government.

With all the violations listed, the complaint says Barber is asking for a declaratory judgment, as well as an award of attorneys’ fees and costs of the suit.

All the parties involved live in Santa Barbara County, therefore the complaint was filed within the county.

When KSBY first reported on the situation earlier this year, Barber had asked the Board of Trustees to reconsider the request. President Miller responded in an email, saying in part, “Expressions for support of the Pledge of Allegiance in 1890 sound eerily similar to the ugly, racist, anti-immigrant expressions we hear today.”

Barber then replied, saying in part, “Our country does have roots in slavery but that was the past and one of the great things about the United States is we have evolved as a people. We are the most diverse, open country in the entire world.”

In January, Santa Barbara City College decided to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance telling KSBY, “While the college recognizes that there are different opinions about the Pledge of Allegiance, it expects that the First Amendment rights of members of the public to comment at board meetings will be respected. It is inconsistent with those rights for other audience members to interrupt and mock speakers on this topic, as happened at the January 24th board meeting.”

The Board reconsidered the resolution to make the Pledge of Allegiance voluntary for those in attendance at meetings during a session in February.

We reached out to President Miller of the Board of Trustees and Napoleon for comment and have not heard back.