Heckled When She Spoke Out for Pledge of Allegiance, Academic Sues

August 26, 2019 Updated: August 27, 2019

A Santa Barbara City College academic whom radical activists attempted to intimidate by heckling and booing when she spoke out against the board’s ban on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during meetings is suing the California school for denying her free speech rights.

Adjunct professor Celeste Barber (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name) said that an angry mob—whose conduct she claims was condoned by the campus administration—tried to silence her while she made comments at a college board of trustees meeting Jan. 24.

While it was happening, “I was terrified,” Barber, an English instructor who retired from the college in 2015 after 20 years’ service, told The Epoch Times in an interview.

“I could hear the shouting and foot-stomping. I was frightened.”

“Mine was a very civil statement and I didn’t expect such a backlash. I was stunned.”

SBCC board President Robert Miller had emailed Barber days before the public meeting, saying the pledge was banned because it contains the phrase “one nation under God” and because it is “steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.” Around the same time, Miller told TV station KSBY: “Expressions for support of the Pledge of Allegiance in 1890 sound eerily similar to the ugly, racist, anti-immigrant expressions we hear today.”

Publicity surrounding the situation garnered her an invitation to appear on Fox News Channel on Jan. 30.

She told the show: “There is nothing white nationalist about the Pledge of Allegiance. There’s no reference to race, to gender to ethnicity. It’s all-inclusive. That’s why school children around the country, thousands of them, recite it every day, because it includes everybody who lives in this country.”

Public outrage apparently forced SBCC, a taxpayer-supported institution, to abandon the pledge ban, at least temporarily. The college announced on Facebook the day before Barber’s television appearance that the pledge “will be recited” at board meetings “until some future date when the matter may be reconsidered by the Board.”

But Barber decided to take legal action.

In the lawsuit filed on Aug. 19 in the County of Santa Barbara office of the Superior Court of California, Barber named the Santa Barbara Community College District Board of Trustees, professor Raeanne Napoleon, and two other individuals as defendants.

The attorneys she hired, Dhillon Law Group, said in a statement that Barber hired them after the college ignored a state law called the Brown Act by allowing “a heckler’s veto to professor Raeanne Napoleon who was shouting down Celeste Barber—a local resident who was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the public comment section of the meeting.”

Barber had applied to address the board about why it should return to the old policy of reciting the pledge, but throughout her remarks, Napoleon “continually interrupted Barber’s prepared comments” and “encouraged others in the audience to also attempt to shout down Barber’s prepared comments.”

California law requires the SBCC board “to remove those individuals who are disrupting a meeting,” and because the board failed to do so, it “created a heckler’s veto and silenced Ms. Barber’s First Amendment right to free speech and to petition her government.”

Barber is also a member of Fair Education Santa Barbara, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that is suing the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the nonprofit Just Communities Central Coast (JCCC) in state court.

According to the parents and other critics, the “implicit bias” training program operating in Santa Barbara, which bears a resemblance to programs active in school districts and colleges across the nation, is pseudoscientific and falsely portrays the United States as a cruel, oppressive, and racist country.

Parents accuse those who promote the program, which is run by JCCC, of teaching that white people in the United States routinely oppress non-whites, men oppress women, Christians oppress non-Christians, heterosexuals oppress gays, and the wealthy oppress the poor. The left-wing nonprofit counters that its teachings are legitimate, not racist, and are aimed to close what it characterizes as an achievement gap between Latino and white students.

The media relations department at Santa Barbara City College hadn’t returned phone calls from The Epoch Times as of press time.