August 31, 2004

The ashes of Atlanta have been swept up, the city rebuilt. Grass has long been growing over the graves of dead soldiers in the South.

But the Confederate flag, a design on a piece of cloth, still has the power to dig it all up again, even in present-day Nebraska, far away from the Civil War–era South.

Who owns the flag now?

Is it the proud southerners who see the flag as recognition of independence and honor – a memorial to those who died for the Confederacy?

Or should blacks control it – those who see slavery, fear and hatred in the Southern Cross?

We can’t answer that.

But if students want to display it in the window of their private residences, it’s their right.

Neo-nazis waved their flags on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol last July. It angered many spectators and required heightened security, but the First Amendment is there to protect all speech, not just that upon which we can all agree.

Ku Klux Klan members were there last July, waving their Confederate flags beside the Swastika. White supremacist groups use the flag to represent their ideas – they own it, too.

Unless speech includes obscenity or threats of violence, it has to stand. The quiet posting of a Confederate flag includes neither.

Angel Jennings, the UNL student who complained when she saw the flag hanging in a Husker Courtyards window, had a right to make her feelings known and, through various channels, request the student take his flag down.

Kasey Montgomery, the student who posted the flag, had the right to refuse her wish.

But he didn’t — he covered the flag with his blinds and reportedly said he’d look for another place to hang it. Jennings has since sent a thank-you note to Montgomery for his actions.

For an issue that gets blood boiling, both parties seem to be acting with a refreshing amount of civility.

Jennings could have mounted an army of indignant students to camp out at Montgomery’s door. Montgomery could have made the Confederate flag his new wardrobe, wallpaper and car interior. Neither did.

Even the university, with its emphasis on building a minority-friendly image, didn’t stomp on Montgomery’s First Amendment right to maintain that image.

The Daily Nebraskan has also been on the receiving end of an orchestrated letter-writing campaign supporting Montgomery for displaying the flag. And we’ve received numerous letters and e-mails from both sides of the debate.

We welcome, and encourage, that feedback.

After all, there aren’t many rights we treasure more than freedom of speech.

© 2004 Daily Nebraskan