New Jersey Student Suspended For Confederate Flag On Truck

3434786_GI recently wrote about the declining free speech rights of students in the United States. There is another such case out of New Jersey this week where Gregory Vied, 17, has been suspended for refusing to remove a Confederate flag on his truck. In my view, it is a clear violation of free speech and an abuse of the rights of this student to express his views and associations by the administrators of Steinert High School in Hamilton Township.

After the American Civil Liberties Union intervened, the school reduced the original suspension of three days to one day. That hardly resolves the matter. The school is still punishing a student for a symbol on his truck outside of the school in the parking lot.

Vied insists that the flag is not meant to reflect racism but Southern pride. (His connection to his family’s Southern roots might be a tad stronger if the flag did not have “REDNECK” written across it, though it does reflect a group identity). Regardless of the message, it is clearly protected speech and shows the degree to which school officials are not imposing their own views on students — and teaching conformity to these future citizens. The decision is part of a growing line of cases granting sweeping deference to school officials and curtailing the free speech rights of students. I have long disagreed with that trend. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), the Supreme Court supported the first amendment rights of Iowa residents John F. Tinker (15 years old), John’s younger sister Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old), and their friend Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old) in wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In his majority decision, Justice Abe Fortas held that “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.” In a statement would would seem to fit this case, Fortas found that “the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably lead 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.” Since Tinker, the Supreme Court has steadily limited the speech rights of students as in the ruling in the “Bong Hits For Jesus” case.

If this flag is banned, how about Free Tibet stickers or Black Pride signs or NRA stickers? We have seen schools cracking down on any bumper stickers viewed offensive but there is a decidedly ambiguous standard for such decisions. We have also seen tee-shirts with NRA symbols and American flags banned by schools. Given their school symbol, the Spartans, I wonder what would happen if students began to show images from Sparta where the helots were treated as sub-humans.

Putting aside the constitutional concerns, why shouldn’t students be encouraged to engage in such speech and associations? Many kids are entirely unconnected today and uninterested in public causes or speech. Rather than teaching about the marketplace of ideas, schools are teaching conformity and authoritarian caprice.

The Southern flag is clearly insulting to many people due to its historical associations. However, it is also a simple of Southern heritage and sacrifice. Robert E. Lee himself identified with the flag while rejoicing in the end of slavery. He stated:

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.

So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.

This is not to say that I am not sympathetic to those objecting to the symbol but I believe that the image of free speech being curtailed in this way is far more disturbing.

144 thoughts on “New Jersey Student Suspended For Confederate Flag On Truck”

  1. A student would not be allowed to have gang symbols or representations on their vehicles or person for safety reasons. A gang member could claim “gang name” pride if this instance was allowed to be overturned. One could argue that the confederate flag is a symbol used by white supremacist groups and thus be equal to any other gang symbols representing any other gang.

    A public school is a unique institution in that the students are required to be there or find an alternative and pay for it. A gang member zoned to a school in another gang’s territory does not have a choice about going to school. I worked at a school that had a “local” gang and another school housed the rival gang. The principals of both schools were wise enough to transfer rival gang members to the other school to keep peace and protect the student body from possible violence. The under aged gang members do not want to draw attention to themselves for truancy because ultimately it brings unwanted attention to the area and would be bad for business.

    I agree with most of your posts on the intolerance of schools and the abuse of power, however in this instance I do not see it. Would it be acceptable for students to start putting gang sign graffiti on sun shades in the windshields? How is that not protected free speech but this is? Would the ACLU protect a gang member’s right to have blatant gang symbols on their vehicle in the school parking lot? Would you be for allowing this type of free speech and just wash your hands of the violence that would result in the schools and the dangers posed to students not affiliated with a gang?

    If you view the flag as history, I can buy your argument. If you view it as a gang symbol, then I disagree with your argument. I view it as a gang symbol, especially since the word Redneck was on it, thus distorting the historical argument of the symbol.

    Of course you could be right and this is just another instance of a school applying zero tolerance.

    1. AY – how is that article different than what I summarized for you?

  2. AY – ” When Grant was elected…. He reversed that decision….. But could not reverse the seizure of Robert E Lees property which is now Arlington cemetery….. So appointed him head of Washington Lee university as I recall…. Lifetime I think …..” All of this is incorrect except for the part of Lee’s home becoming Arlington Cemetery. Lee was selected by the trustees of Washington College to head it up and it later became Washington and Lee because of his impact on the university. Johnson reversed the 40 acres, not Grant. Since the US govt illegally seized the property in 1864, Grant had no part in giving Arlington back. It actually went to court and in 1882 the SCOTUS decided against the government. It was then returned to the Custis family who then sold the cemetery back to the US

  3. Oh there’s plenty to agree with…. But… Nick lacks honesty in my humble opinion….

  4. Paul…. I agree with the concept of moral relativism…… I think someone call Nick out for his use…… And based upon what I have seen nick do….. Well, I have to agree with the Yankee …….

    1. If you agree with moral relativism then whatever nick does is correct. There is nothing to agree with Yankee about.

  5. AY – a quick read of Wikipedia would give your a better grasp of Lee’s career and the Civil War. You got several items wrong.

  6. Nick,

    I think your blowing things out of proportion….. I feel sorry for you….. You must really be lonely…… Have you noticed the quality of post have gone down pretty much since you have pretty much tried to make this a right wing cauldron…… No one can have a dissenting voice but you ….. What’s the problem with that….

  7. A coward from the past leaves an echo chamber and attacks. Pitiful.

  8. And whose “Moral Relativism” are you defining Nick?

    If it’s yours I want nothing to do with it. If it’s society as a whole, well, you’re just not capable of defining what’s constitutes “Morality” as it is my belief that you are morally challenged, ethically incapable and intellectually dishonest.

  9. Kraaken:

    “In THIS world however, economics rules the roost and right becomes a somewhat fluid concept..”

    And that is a real problem with our society, this idea of gray and nuance. There are moral absolutes and our society would be better off if we could figure that out.

  10. Byron: “So what? Right is right and economics has nothing to do with it.”

    In a perfect world, you would be correct.. In THIS world however, economics rules the roost and right becomes a somewhat fluid concept..

  11. Nick,

    Now if that comment was directed towards me…. No problem…. If it was directed at Elaine….. Then you are a bigger fool than I thought…..

  12. LawyerChuck,

    Thanks for the link to that article. I left the classroom before I had planned because the mania for standardized testing was beginning to take hold in my state. I knew all the joy I took in teaching young children would be a thing of the past once I was expected to spend much of my class time teaching to the test. I spent my last three years before retirement as an elementary school teaching librarian. It was my dream job!

  13. PS:

    did you ever read this in your pursuit of history?

    “I am not frightened at the word rebellion…. But I certainly never conceived that there was a sufficient title to my sympathy in the mere fact of being a rebel; that the act of taking arms against one’s fellow citizens was so meritorious in itself, was so completely its own justification, that no question need be asked concerning the motive. It seems to me a strange doctrine that the most serious and responsible of all human acts imposes no obligation on those who do it, of showing that they have a real grievance; that those who rebel for the power of oppressing others, exercise as sacred a right as those who do the same thing to resist oppression practised upon themselves…. Secession may be laudable, and so may any other kind of insurrection; but it may also be an enormous crime. It is the one or the other, according to the object and the provocation. And if there ever was an object which, by its bare announcement, stamped rebels against a particular community as enemies of mankind, it is the one professed by the South.

    No one has a natural right to own another human being. I can understand the historical context but it doesnt make it right. I can also understand why it was allowed to continue after our founding, it should have ended on its own without war but it didnt. The south was on the wrong side of history, of human liberty, of morality, they deserved to lose.

    I am truly sorry you dont understand just how evil slavery really is.

    1. Byron – what you have to realize is that there are two issues here. 1) One which is evil today. 2) One that was iffy in 1860. As a historian, you try not to overlay current morality, ethics or legality on the period you are studying. You can use the morality, ethics and legality of the period to evaluate the subjects and their actions, but not yours. As a historian you try to keep your bias out of the way.

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