A case of banning the flag:

On the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, students at one high school were not allowed to wear clothes with an American flag.

Under a new school rule, students at Hobbton High School are not allowed to wear items with flags, from any country, including the United States.

The new rule stems from a controversy over students wearing shirts bearing flags of other countries.

I have difficulty figuring why exactly students wearing flags of other countries is such a problem that it requires this solution.

Back during and after the Gulf War, there was a student of Middle Eastern descent that was a vocal Saddam Hussein supporter and actually had an Iraqi flag pinned to his bag. It was a bit of a distraction because a lot of people took great exception to someone wearing the flag of a nation that we were at war against, but teachers were unusually capable of alleviating the conflict and getting on with class discussions. It seems to me that the ability to express oneself, even if it causes some conflict, was worth the minor distraction.

The superintendant explained it thusly:

The superintendent of schools in Sampson County calls the situation unfortunate, but says educators didn’t want to be forced to pick and choose which flags should be permissible.

Even if we make a different judgment in the above case of an Iraqi flag in a time of war, it would seem to me that there is a substantive difference between wearing an American flag and the flag of a foreign nation. We are, after all, on American soil. I don’t think a “home rule” exception to the flag ban is wholly inappropriate, on 9/11 or any other day. Even if we don’t want to leave judgment in the hands of educators (heaven forbid), that seems like something of a no-brainer.

Sure, if one kid wants to wear a British flag and another a Sudanese and we allow the former but not the latter, that can become problematic. I could see how banning both might be preferable to making those distinctions. But we’re in America and an American flag ought to be uncontroversial.

The only gray area I see with the home rule exemption is if an exchange student says that Americans can fly their flag but he is not allowed to fly his. As such, maybe make the rule about flying the flag of the nation they come from. If a young Mexican or Canadian going to school hear wants to wear something with a Mexican or Canadian flag on it for Cinco de Mayo or Canada Day (or any other day, for that matter), that too is substantively different from some kid just deciding to wear some other nation’s flag cause he likes it or he wants to register his protest somehow.

These do not strike me as terribly difficult distinctions to make. They are pretty clear (American flag or flag of a nation that you have citizenship), easy to state, and not too difficult to enforce. I find it odd that the school district declined to make these distinctions and must attribute it to either some sort of transnationalistic thinking (we should want to be citizens of the world!) or, more likely, schools being terrified of making any distinction, no matter how unsound, that might come across as unfair to somebody, somewhere.

Either way, from a PR standpoint it almost never makes sense to mess with the red, white, and blue.

Category: Newsroom, School

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4 Responses to Star-Spangled Ban

  1. Barry says:

    I’m not one to take the most liberal interpretation of the 1st Amendment right to free speech, but it seems in this case to be a pretty clear cut-and-dried situation. I mean, assuming “wearing flags” does not violate a larger dress code policy of wearing clothing with any kinds of symbols on them (which is fairly common).

    I understand what the administration is trying to do with the alternate-flag-logo ban, to keep peace and avoid the disruption that could occur when a possible controversial symbol is displayed by someone on a shirt.

    I would imagine there was an incident somewhere where some student wore a picture of a flag of a country another student didn’t like, and fisticuffs ensued. One parent or another got upset, made some calls, school officials got involved and someone picked the quick and easy solution – ban flags from clothing. If it’s fairly obvious from the culture of the community that some flags (Iraq? Iran? North Korea? Palestine? Does anyone really care?) would be disruptive that this might be a prudent action to take to keep the peace. But I can’t imagine it’s a wide-spread incident. And it might be solved by having a discussion with the student(s) involved and asking them and their parents to practice discretion and good judgement in order to avoid conflict. That’s it – handle it at an individual level and maybe you avoid this kind of situation.

    But that said, lumping the US flag into the pot with the other foreign flags – that’s a no-brainer to suppose a US flag should not be displayed because its presence could be “disruptive” like any other symbol “might” be.

    That’s almost like requiring Spanish to be spoken, because English might be offensive to our Spanish-speaking friends…

  2. Peter says:

    Could the rule actually have been aimed at the Confederate flag? That’s a very controversial symbol, especially in the South.

  3. trumwill says:

    I’m not one to take the most liberal interpretation of the 1st Amendment right to free speech, but it seems in this case to be a pretty clear cut-and-dried situation.

    I think the argument here is that first amendment rights to speech do not apply to students in public schools. I recall in the election of ’92 that we weren’t allowed to wear Bush/Quayle, Clinton/Gore, or Perot/Stockdate shirts. My senior year in high school they required that shirts be tucked in and belt looks belted. A kid created some shirts protesting this policy and was suspended from school.

    I can understand where the school was coming from (I think I favor school uniforms, actually) and I can understand the youthful rebellion. My view is less balanced on flags, though.

    That’s it – handle it at an individual level and maybe you avoid this kind of situation.

    Yeah, I think that’s what their afraid of. They seem scared to death of anything that wiffs of discretion and judgment. Consistency is valued above all. The same idea behind enforcing zero tolerance policies for butter knives or aspirin.

  4. trumwill says:

    That’s a really good catch for a yankee, Peter. Surprisingly I hadn’t even thought about that!

    The article says says other “national flags” but I could understand them wanting to duck a fight over the confederate flag as it’s one of those issues that pits the people in responsibility against popular sentiment. Seems to me that the lines could be drawn pretty clearly to prevent the confederate flag from flying, but it would certainly not be a popular decision.

    I remember a lot of confederate flags on bumper stickers in the school parking lot, but I don’t remember kids wearing it on their clothes. Given the chic, that means it probably was banned. Then again I went to an upper middle class high school with a lot of implants from around the country. I could imagine such a rule being much harder to pass a little further away from the city.

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