In 2005, Steven Lafon, the principal of the William Blount High School in Maryville, Tennessee, told an assembly of the freshman class that students “would not be allowed to have Rebel flags or symbols of [the] Rebel flag” on their clothes. That policy displeased students wishing to express their so-called “southern heritage” by wearing clothing with the Confederate flag. The students, obviously rebels, sued to overturn the policy.
Despite the students’ claims of free speech violation, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the school policy.
The Court of Appeals cited the the testimony of a school director who said that racial tensions at the school comprised the context for the clothing ban. The court noted that racist graffiti had been found that made general threats against the lives of black student, the graffiti even contained specific students’ names on a “hit list,” there were physical altercations between black and white students, all of which resulted in a police lockdown at the school.” The school was 10% black.
The court distinguised its decision from the Tinker case approving black armbands worn during the Vietnam war. The court held that wearing black armbands would not ‘reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred’ On the other hand, in this case school officials could “reasonably forecast” that permitting students to wear clothing depicting the Confederate flag would cause disruptions to the school environment.
Of course, this policy was limited to students – and shouldn’t be extended to apply many other places, but I bet this ruling will be so distorted, they will be claiming it means you can’t wear confederate flags anywhere now –