Tennessee public high school: Students have right to fly Confederate flag on campus, it’s not a ‘disturbance’

Confederate flag waving on the wind (Shutterstock)

A Tennessee school district said this week that it allowed students to fly Confederate flags because it did not cause a “disturbance” — even though some black parents fear for the safety of their children. A mother in Rutherford County who wished to remain anonymous told WKRN that she was shocked when her 14-year-old son told her that students were permitted to wear clothing with the Confederate flag.

She said that she personally saw students flying the flag from their cars while on the Stewarts Creek High School campus.

“I felt sad and hurt when I saw that,” she explained. “I just don’t think it should be in schools.”

WKRN visited the school and confirmed that one of the flags had “heritage not hate” printed on it. But the mother said that the “heritage” message did not help her feel secure about her son’s safety.

“I don’t think it is the appropriate place for my child to be subjected to this,” she insisted, adding that she contacted the district and officials refused her request to ban the flag.

Rutherford County Schools spokesperson James Evans told WKRN that the students had a First Amendment right to fly and wear the Confederate flag on campus.

“As a school district, we can’t prohibit such items unless it is causing a disturbance at school,” he argued.

In 2009, a school near Knoxville, Tennessee was sued by a student who claimed his First Amendment right had been violated after he was suspended for wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and belt buckle. The student claimed that the flag was part of his heritage, but a federal appeals court ruledin 2010 that banning the flag was a reasonable way to prevent disruptions and violence.

“We hold that the dress code’s provision banning displays of racially divisive symbols, and its application to the Confederate flag, is narrowly tailored to the state and school district’s substantial interest in educating students in the public school system,” 6th Circuit Judge Eric Clay wrote at the time.

Judge John Rogers agreed in his concurring opinion: “A plainly reasonable interpretation of a Confederate flag T-shirt or jacket is one of racial hostility or contempt, regardless of the subjective intent of the wearer.”