Skip to content

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

First, let’s correct a common but false impression: The First Amendment’s protection of free speech does not apply to students wearing Confederate flags.

There are many legal precedents; here are four:

In 1972, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Tennessee high school’s suspending a student for wearing a jacket that featured a Confederate flag was “a legitimate exercise of the school officials’ inherent authority to curtail disruption of the educational process.”

In 2008, the Sixth Circuit Court again upheld another decision from another Tennessee high school that banned Confederate flags for the same reason. Black students made up roughly 3% of the school, nearly identical to the Black population of Rockbridge County.

In 2009, the Eighth Circuit Court upheld a Missouri high school’s decision to suspend a student for violating the dress code prohibiting Confederate flags.

In 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court upheld a ruling that a South Carolina middle school was allowed to prohibit a student from wearing a “Southern Chicks” t-shirt that featured Confederate flags because “the school officials could reasonably forecast that [it] would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school.”

In each case when the ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court rejected to hear it, establishing the lower court’s ruling as the final outcome and the legal precedent for future cases.

Here in Virginia, Montgomery County has prohibited the Confederate flags since 2002, because students cannot wear material that is “racially divisive,” listing the Confederate flag as an example. More than twenty high school students were suspended in 2015 for the violation.

In 2020, the Franklin County school board voted 6-0 to ban Confederate flags. A board member explained that the policy change was necessary because “it became apparent that students were offended by the Confederate symbol and found it disruptive.”

Bedford County Schools banned Confederate flags last year too. Its high school dress code reads: “Attire that has language or images that are offensive, profane, vulgar, discriminatory, or racially/culturally divisive. This would include Confederate flags, swastikas, KKK references, or any other images that might reasonably be considered hurtful or intimidating to others.”

Schools routinely ban Confederate flags and the courts routinely uphold those bans because the Confederate flag is overtly linked to slavery, the most extraordinarily racist institution in our nation’s history.

Mississippi’s statements of succession declared: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

The Confederate Constitution is identical to the U.S. Constitution, except for one repeated phrase: “Negro slavery.”

Its vice-president declared that the Confederacy “rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”

The Confederacy kept four million Americans enslaved and, had they won the war, would have kept their uncalculatable offspring enslaved too. White supremacists know that historical fact and have repeatedly brandished the Confederate flag as a symbol of racial hatred in defiance of American values.

In 1951, Georgia politician Roy Harris declared that the Confederate flag “is becoming … the symbol of the white race and the cause of the white people.”

In 1956, white supremacists waved Confederate flags while throwing rocks at the first black student to attend the University of Alabama. They waved them in Little Rock, New Orleans, Austin, and Birmingham too.

In 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace waved the Confederate flag in opposition to integration, promising to fight for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

South Carolina began flying the Confederate flag from its capital in opposition to Civil Rights too. It was only removed in 2015 after a white supremacist murdered nine Black church members at a Bible study meeting in Charleston.

White supremacists waved the Confederate flag next to the Nazi flag at Charlottesville in 2017. The two flags are known internationally as symbols of racial hatred. The Anti-Defamation League classifies the Confederate flag “as a potent symbol of slavery and white supremacy, which has caused it to be very popular among white supremacists in the 20th and 21st centuries. This popularity extends to white supremacists beyond the borders of the United States.”

When a Confederate flag was displayed in a Canadian cemetery last March, the Calgary police hate crimes unit investigated, and the city council declared: the Confederate flag “is hateful, and it is not welcome in our community.”

And right here in Rockbridge, the KKK has left leaflets decorated with Confederate flags on the lawns of local residents.

Though many identify the Confederate flag as a symbol of family and regional pride, that identification does not outweigh the flag’s larger and internationally recognized meaning as a symbol of racial hatred inextricably linked to its white supremacist history. The South and the Confederacy are not the same. Virginia has existed for over 400 years, and it was a member of the Confederacy for only four of those years. Pride in Southern heritage cannot be linked to an institution that legalized forced labor, torture, murder, rape, human breeding, and the permanent division of families.

%d bloggers like this: