Ban on emblem defended

At trial, school officials say Confederate symbol could cause trouble
By Jim Balloch (Contact)
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Anderson County school officials testified Tuesday that they want to keep the total ban on Confederate battle flag emblems because of the symbol’s potential to ignite trouble – not because they believe that it is a racist symbol or that all students who want to wear it are racially motivated.

But on cross-examination by the attorney for former student Tom Defoe, whose federal civil-rights lawsuit over the issue is being tried in U.S. District Court, they agreed that removing the ban would not prevent them from being able to punish anyone who uses the symbol for harassment or intimidation purposes.

"I have no way of knowing who is motivated by racism and who is not," Anderson County High School Principal Greg Deal testified Tuesday. "It’s simpler and more effective to ban the shirts outright."

Defoe came to the high school on several occasions wearing T-shirts with Confederate emblems, and wore a Confederate belt buckle almost every day.

Deal said when he asked Defoe to turn a shirt inside out so the flag did not show, he complied politely and explained that the flag reflected a heritage that was important to him. "I explained to him that there were other considerations that were more important," Deal said.

But Defoe was eventually suspended from Anderson County High School for refusing to either take the shirt off or wear it inside out, and suspended from a class at Anderson County Career and Technical School for refusing to cover or remove the belt buckle.

Defoe testified that history and family stories about a Confederate ancestor had inspired him.

"I am proud of my heritage," he said. "And I am proud to be a Southerner. I don’t see any reason that anybody can’t wear what they are proud of."

Attorney Arthur F. Knight III, who represents Anderson County school system officials, asked Defoe if he was "upset with the outcome" of the Civil War.

Defoe answered: "I don’t know how it would have been if the South would have won. I know how it is now that we lost, because we’re sitting in here at this courtroom."

Pressed by Knight on the use of the flag by the Ku Klux Klan, Defoe said that he has seen that on TV and also seen footage of KKK demonstrations with the U.S. flag.

"They are misusing both of them," Defoe said. "Both of them are American flags. People fought and died for both of them."

A number of witnesses testified that Defoe’s clothing had never caused any disruptions at the school, except for discussions in the hallways and reaction by officials who told him to turn the shirt inside out.

The trial continues today.

© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.

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