I have written before (here) that states should not display symbols, such as Confederate flags, that antagonize and offend large numbers of their citizens. But does that obligation, imposed by common sense and common courtesy, extend to requiring students to take the shirts off their backs?

I’m not so sure, but, according to an article in today’s Washington Post, school boards across the South are grappling with this question, and when they do, something always is lost.

Apparently a new line of T-shirts with a Confederate motif, such as a battle flag in the shape of a rose — "’This is not your typical, in-your-face redneck type of shirt,’ said Dewey Barber, the

[manufacturing] firm’s owner" — has gained considerable popularity, and is being banned as inflammatory across the region.

Again, my preference would be for people to honor their heritage without waving a red flag in the face of people who will predictably be offended, but I am also troubled by the state setting out to banish all offensive symbols from the schools. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supremes upheld the right of a students to wear black arm bands to protest the war in Vietnam, but the rationale was that doing so was not academically disruptive, leaving the threat of a heckler’s veto alive and well.

Is there a principle (or maybe principal?) that would allow schools to ban clothing or jewelry with Confederate emblems when minority students object that would not give Jewish students the right to insist that Christian students not display crosses, or Christians to require the banning of Stars of David?

Dewey Barber, the manufacturer, said he is "troubled" by the fact that "You can have an Iraqi flag in school. You can have the Russian flag. You can have every flag but the Confederate flag." And his company, Dixie Outfitters, has a letter on its web site asking, "Are you going to ban the American flag, if one or two people out of 1,800 find it offensive, because it had more to do with the slave trade than any other flag, including the battle flag?"

These may be self-interested questions, but they are not frivolous. I wish everyone would just chill out. Let a thousand offensive symbols — Confederate roses, black power fists, crosses, Stars of David, swastikas, whatever — bloom.

Posted by John at 04:09 PM | TrackBack

Comments:

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I think we need a bit higher standard than merely offensive to ban anything. Offensive is so vague as to mean anything that anyone might want it to mean. Some people are offended by the Stars and Stripes, but that certainly wouldn’t be cause to ban Old Glory.

As to the Conderate flag and symbols, I’m offended by them, but wouldn’t ban them. As a Bostonian, to me they stand for slavery, white supremacy, and treason.

Posted by: Nobody Important on December 31, 2002 12:22 PM

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The Confederate flag upsets more than a few people out of 1,800. It upset many people of all races. I think that people should be allowed to do whatever they want on their own property. However, the government should be a neutral power that displays symbols that represent its people. The Confederate flag is not that symbol. This is the 21st Century for crying out loud!
Along with that, I say that in schools there are dress codes and everyone must obey those dress codes. This doesn’t mean that there should be discrimination between religions, races or cultures. I think that people should be able to show their individuality. But, in dealing with students administration would have to deal with how much commotion the students’ individuality is causing. This is probably why a lot of schools do not allow cross-dressing.

Posted by: Deborah on February 11, 2004 06:07 PM

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I don’t understand the problem with the confederate flag being displayed. Frankly, I find that Red, Green and Black flag offensive. It was created to be a white hatred symbol, you cannot say that about the confederate flag. The confederate flag was a symbol for southern states but it was meant for ALL of the people in the south not just white. If we are going to ban the confederate flag let also get rid of the "I hate whitey flag".

Posted by: Marcus on February 21, 2004 05:36 AM

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I don’t see why it is so hard to make a living with everyone wanting to have a war.Then for other people it is hard but why?

Posted by: on March 31, 2004 02:01 PM

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The "stars and bars" that people mistakenly recognize as the confederate flag was actually Kentucky’s battle flag. The flag is still around today because after the civil war it was adopted by the KKK. The only heritage that this flag represents is that of Kentucky separatists and of racists. The official flag of the Confederate States of America has two red stripes separated by a white stripe and has a blue block containing a circle of white stars in the top left corner.

Posted by: Fat Capitalist on April 18, 2004 01:16 PM

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i am a student who resently was told i can no longer display my confederate flag on my locker they said was a racist symbol and it needed to come down i said that it was my right to display my haritage and my history they came back by saying it was not my locker it was the schools i said that is my dad’s locker he payed for it with his tax dollers and there for with my dads permision i could hang it on his locker they said i was out of line then i replyed if i can not fly my flag then the german flag by the german rooms needed to come down becouse it offended me well my libral principal had no reply so i said if i cant disply the battle flag then i will display the stars and bars or bonny blue or the 2nd or 3rd national flags he replyed what are those you see these people dont no history and dont understand what the south was for in the cival war there all just comunists

Posted by: on June 10, 2004 10:41 AM

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the confederate flag[s],has become a worldwide symbol of rebellion.otherwise,anyone who wants to warehouse the flag,has a different fight with the klan.i personally cannot figure out why blacks want to honor a country who sold their own into slavery before U.S.was even a country.and then theres genocide,starvation,and every conceivable disease…yup,real good roll model.before you go slandering my heritage,take a look at your own!

Posted by: obxman on June 26, 2004 12:37 AM

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The Battle Flag never flew over ONE slave ship but, the Stars and Stripes US FLAG flew over them all plus the Spanish and British But No one has ever objected to their flags flying or displayed? The South was family the North was for sending all the Negros back to Liberia. As Bill Clinton asked a few yeras back Are you better off here in the USA or would you as a black population rather be living in Liberia with Civil Stife and Black on Black wars? Me and My family would rather live here in the USA then in Mother Africa as you all put it. BTW where in Mother Africa did your Daddy come From? Mine came from the Hills of Georgia and was kicked out by Andrew Jackson and his Gestapo all for the Lust for Gold in Cherokee Co. and Untill 1980 it was against the Law in Georgia for a Cherokee Decendant to visit woth out the States approval in writing. You the angry Black americans had far more rights in this great country then all my Native Brothers and Sisters here in the US. In fact the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the USCT fought with Custer and Sherman to try and exterminate my ancestors from the west and today they still don’t get treated with the respect they deserve for being the First Americans to welcome the White and Black Man to our shores before we were persacuted and sent to Reservations/concentration Camps to live .
Sincerley ,
A proud Decendant of a Cherokee Maiden.

Posted by: Proud Missourian on June 26, 2004 02:27 PM

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Also General Stand Wattie of the Cherokee Nation was the Highest ranking Native American in the Confederate Army his flag and Mine was the Cherokee Brave Flag based on the First National Flag of the Confederacy with the five red stars added to signify the five Civilized tribes of the Confederation of tribes to include the Cherokees’. He was also the Last Confederate General to Formally Surender. In the Movie "Outlaw Josey Wales" the Chief that joins Josey was a tribute to General Wattie. Josy like My family fought for the Confederacy and hailed from Missouri. We were under Military Rule for all the Years of the War and were harassed for being Southerns. My families Neighbor Dick Kitchen was a Noted bushwacker who was never caught but, that didn’t keep the Blue Bellys from harrasing his wife all the time coming by and driving off her livestock ,trampling her garden under the hooves of their horses and making her life miserable. But she had good neighbors and friends who would help her gather up the Cows and chickens and bring over vegatables from their gardens to replace the food ruined by the Grand old Army of the Republic under General Lyons and Abe Lincoln.
So, Banning my flag and the flag of my Ancestors is darn right prejudicle to me and my family. and we object to Julian Bond and the NAACP compareing our flag to the Nazi Swastica that my Grampa Fought against in WW2. Their was never any RACE of men killed to extermination and we didn’t ride north to loot and plunder it was Sherman and Sheridan from the Union Army who are famous for their looting. Marse Robert was famous for the Lee Brigade and the Gentlemen who served under him like Stone Wall Jackson who during the War of Nothern Agression always rememberd to donate his meager tythe to the Church to support the Black Sunday School to help teach poor black kids to read and write for that was the measure of the Man known as Stonewall Jackson! So don’t look down your nose at the Honorable St Andrews Cross for it has a honorable history.

Posted by: Proud Missourian on June 26, 2004 02:48 PM

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I believe Confederate flags show nothing but a love for heritage. I have lived in the south all of my life and in such a small community as I reside in, yes a community, The factors maintain to show that the majority of ethnicity at my highschool is about 50% white and 50% African american. Now give or take a few latinos, the ratio shows that the percentage is equal. yet the fact that some of these people that you are calling "red necks" in fact are my classmates, friends, and some maybe family. The community or town if you would like to call it is a very historical, old town. the people here are very set in their ways. Yet even the african americans see the confederate flag as a symbol of their heritage, not a symbol of racism or hatred. I believe that the reason we’re not allowed to wear the flag at school is because of ignorance and fear.

Posted by: Christina on October 14, 2004 12:39 PM