By Ed Farrell Staff Writer
Dewey Barber’s first response to hearing that one of his Dixie Outfitter shirts was at the heart of a skirmish with a local school board was to chuckle.
Contacted Friday morning at his office in Georgia, Barber told the Independent that his popular line of shirts, all of which, he said, are designed to “celebrate Southern heritage,” have frequently run afoul of schools and school districts across the nation.
“This is far from being the first time this has happened,” Barber said. “It’s just the latest example of the ongoing attack on our Southern heritage by the politically correct. But it seems the places where there’s the most trouble is in the heart of the Old Confederacy, places like Tennessee.”
In addition to running his company, Barber serves on the board of directors of the Southern Legal Resource Center, which provides, among other services, legal advice for people wishing to challenge bans on the wearing of Confederate-related items in schools and the workplace.
Roger McRedie, executive director of the Southern Legal Resource Center, which is headquartered in Black Mountain, N.C., said his group was formed largely in response to “help people fight this foolishness … with groups that have literally waged war on everything Southern and Confederate symbols over the course of the last 20 or so years.”
When apprised of the details of Thursday’s action, whereby the mother of a 15-year-old Chester County teenager threatened to file suit against the school board unless a ban on wearing the Confederate flag is lifted, McRedie literally exploded in both joy and anger.
“Good for her,” he exclaimed, “sometimes you can’t make these turkeys understand unless you take them to court.”
McRedie knows a little about that – his organization has been instrumental in several highly-publicized lawsuits, including two that are currently being litigated in Tennessee. A third lawsuit, the second in Blount County, is near to being filed, he said.
“In these cases, the school boards always say they’re doing this (banning items) because they are offensive, or they fear someone will be offended,” McRedie said.
“The truth of it is there are any number of articles of clothing out there that display slogans and things that any person of ordinary intelligence would find offensive, but at the same time, what that typically all boils down to is a difference of opinion, which is not a justifiable reason to ban something,” he said.
Van Irion, a Knoxville-based attorney who is leading the SLRC’s fight in the two Tennessee cases, took the argument even farther.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled you cannot ban any form of speech simply on the basis that it’s offensive,” Irion said. “In fact, the minute someone is told that some form of speech is offensive, their immediate response should be ‘and so what?’” Irion said.
The only legally justifiable infringement on free speech, Irion said, is if it can be proven, beyond any doubt, that the speech has not only caused “substantial disruption” in the past, but that it can also be shown to be reasonably feared to cause similar disruption in the future.
“And that’s only if you can explicitly show that any and all disruption was caused solely by the item of speech alone … nothing else … and that the item of speech alone, without barring, will be the sole reason for any future disruption,” he said.
“The only reason this has become an issue,” Irion said, is because school boards are becoming more and more politically correct and have decided to make decisions that are based on ‘what might offend’ rather than a student’s Constitutional rights. Government agencies in general, and school boards in particular, tend to take the path of least resistance, which is to follow the path of political correctness. What they don’t understand is that political correctness, while politically convenient, is not patently legal, and frequently, in strict Constitutional terms, frankly illegal.”
On his company’s website, www.dixieoutfitters.com, Barber makes his company’s goals clear.
“Dixie Outfitters is proud to be Southern and proud of our ancestors who fought and died in the War for Southern Independence. We believe various groups have distorted the real meaning of the Confederate Flag for their own purposes. We strive to feature the Confederate Flag in the context of history, heritage and pride in the Southern way of life.”
“It’s a sorry situation when we and our children cannot celebrate our heritage and history,” Barber told the Independent. “These school boards are interested only in political correctness and not in the correctness of our Constitutional right to freedom of speech.”
“I’m incredulous that a school board would do such a ridiculous, nonsensical thing,” Barber said. “It’s beyond me how an educator, or a school board, could choose to simply ignore history and the heritage of its citizens, as well as the rights of children to express themselves freely.”
So strong is Barber’s belief, and outrage, that his company does offer one particular shirt that does not include the Confederate battle flag.
The shirts bear what Dixie Outfitters calls a “politically correct” chest print featuring the company’s name with the slogan “Offended by school censorship of Southern Heritage” on the back.
More information on the Southern Legal Resource Center can be found at www.slrc-csa.org.
On The Web: http://www.chestercountyindependent.com/news.php?viewStory=3074 (online registration required)