Another Court Upholds School Bar on Confederate Flag

By Mark Walsh — November 18, 2010 1 min read
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A federal appeals court today upheld a Tennessee school district’s prohibition of any display of a Confederate flag by students, the latest in a long line of such rulings that have backed administrators seeking to prevent racial conflict over the symbol.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled unanimously in favor of the Anderson County school system and its bar against students displaying the Confederate battle flag or other representations.

“Uncontested evidence in this case clearly indicates racial violence, threats, and tension in Anderson County schools,” U.S. Circuit Judge Eric L. Clay said in Defoe v. Spiva. The appeals court upheld summary judgment for the school district in a free-speech challenge brought by a student and his father.

The court said the district has never completely escaped racial tensions since its schools were desegregated in 1956. Among recent incidents, when a black student displaced by Hurricane Katrina enrolled at predominantly white Anderson County High School in 2005, some students hung a large Confederate battle flag in a hallway, according to court papers.

And when Anderson County High’s basketball team played another school which had a biracial player on its team, some students threw Oreo cookies onto the floor during warmups, the court said.

Judge Clay said the court’s ruling was in keeping with a 2008 6th Circuit decision, in Barr v. LaFon, upholding restrictions on Confederate flag displays in the Blount County, Tenn., school district. I blogged about that case here.

He also cited rulings backing school restrictions on Confederate flag dispays by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 5th, 8th, and 10th circuits.

In a concurrence, Judge John M. Rogers said the Confederate battle flag may convey a noble message to some students, “for instance to signify honor for one’s ancestors who fought bravely with their state compatriots for independence from the industrial North.”

“But the Confederate flag on a T-shirt is doubtless perceived by many, if not most, student viewers in today’s high schools in the United States as a statement of racial hostility—comparable to a slogan that says ‘Blacks should be slaves’ or ‘Blacks are inferior.’ ”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.