The Southern Legal Resource Center has demanded that a Blount County high school drop its ban on the display of Confederate symbols by its students, or face a lawsuit similar to one now under way against the other high school in the county.
In a letter sent Friday to Heritage High School Principal Patty Mandigo, the SLRC said it is acting on behalf of Heritage High student Spencer Stinnett, who has been subjected to several instances of disciplinary action for displaying the Confederate flag in various forms. The letter says the school’s anti-Confederate symbols policy is based on regulations that are legally flawed and selectively enforced. It further states that if the school does not remove its ban voluntarily, the SLRC “will be forced to take sterner measures to vindicate our clients’ rights.”
According to the letter, in addition to violation of his free speech rights, the flag ban also subjects Stinnett to religious discrimination because the Confederate battle flag features St. Andrew’s Cross, and also to racial discrimination because it institutionalizes the idea that Confederate symbols represent slavery and white supremacy, an idea which the SLRC says schools could help overcome through dialogue and proper education. “By banning Confederate symbols without a proper explanation of the meaning of the symbol, or, worse, by deliberately equating these symbols with ‘racism’ as an excuse for banning them, the school partakes of precisely the same bigotry it claims to denounce,” the letter states.
In March of 2006 the SLRC and Knoxville Attorney Van Irion sued Blount County schools in similar circumstances, on behalf of two minor students. That case is now scheduled to be heard by the U. S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in early June. The case is based in part on the precedent set by another SLRC case, Castorina v. Madison County Schools, in which a Kentucky school board’s ban on Confederate symbols was overturned. The Castorina decision is thus established law in the Sixth Circuit, which includes Tennessee.
In February of this year a Knoxville television station reported that taxpayer costs of the first lawsuit, including wrangling over a preliminary injunction requested by the SLRC, already exceeded $53,000.
The SLRC is a registered nonprofit organization that coordinates legal assistance for persons whose civil rights have been violated in connection with Southern heritage issues.
The Southern Legal Resource Center