Non-UT subject held Confederate flag on South Mall
By David Kassabian
UT Police Department officers issued a criminal trespass warning Monday to a 56-year-old black man who was holding a Confederate flag and saluting Civil War-era statues on the South Mall.
The warning is for demonstrating in violation of University rules, because the man, H.K. Edgerton of North Carolina, is not a UT student, faculty or staff member.
Edgerton is now questioning the University’s policies. He said he will write to the Board of Regents and is considering filing a lawsuit.
"I think my free-speech rights were violated – this is a public university," Edgerton said.
Edgerton, a retired self-described advocate of Southern culture, was in Austin to protest the removal of two Confederate Civil War plaques several years ago from the state Supreme Court building. Edgerton is the chairman of board of advisors for the Southern Legal Resource Center, an honorary lifetime member of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the immediate past president of the Ashville, N.C., chapter of the NAACP.
He said he was not actively engaging in a demonstration, because he did not talk to anyone and was only there to see the statues for himself.
"Why would you have Confederate monuments on campus, if I can’t be here with my flag?" Edgerton asked.
Edgerton’s display of the Confederate flag is a form of symbolic expression equivalent to demonstration, said Jeff Graves, vice president for institutional relations and legal affairs, even though Edgerton did not say anything.
"Clear display of a flag under general First Amendment case law would be classified as symbolic speech," Graves said.
Writing criminal trespass warnings against people not affiliated with the University demonstrating on campus happens frequently, Graves said.
"For the most part, the campus, by virtue of regents’ rules, is a closed campus. That is, we reserve the campus, and it’s not like other public property," Graves said. "We have an education mission, and we reserve our campus to further our eduction mission to faculty, students and staff."
The reason for not allowing outside groups to speak or make presentations on campus, Graves said, is because, if the campus was opened to some outside groups, the argument could be made to open it to all outside groups.
The regents are able to restrict speech on campus because the University is a limited forum, meaning it is reserved for a specific purpose, and only faculty, staff and students can demonstrate on it. Graves did say certain items, including T-shirts, bumper stickers and hats, are not considered symbolic speech and are acceptable.
University rules always restricted speech, expression and assembly on campus to students, faculty and staff, Graves said, and the rules have not been changed since their inception. Registered student organizations can have guest speakers, but the group cannot just be a "front" to allow the individual to present on campus and must actively coordinate and be present for the event, Graves said.
Ron Artis, a student affairs administrator in the Office of Campus and Community Involvement, said Edgerton entered his office shortly after receiving the citation, was angry and asked what he could do about it.
"I think content had nothing to do with it," Artis said.
Artis said he didn’t know whether it would have made a difference if Edgerton was displaying an American flag.