Heritage, not hatred
By Dylan G., Staff Writer
“Few symbols rival the Confederate flag for the ability to evoke such a wide range of passions. It is perhaps not surprising that those passions tend to run along racial lines,” stated Kenneth A. Paulson, the executive director of the First Amendment Center at firstamendmentcenter.org. Many people believe that the flag used by the Confederate States is a symbol of racism. The truth is that this flag is meant to represent the pride that people all over the country have in the Southern heritage that is present in their families. In addition, it is becoming an ever more prevalent symbol of the desire for smaller government.
According to firstamendmentcenter.org, a First Amendment violation occurred in Kansas when a middle school student was suspended for three days for sketching a Confederate flag on a notebook in class. Likewise, in Tennessee a student was suspended for three days because an image of the flag was included in an art project. In other cases, the decision to prohibit the use or display of the Confederate flag has been upheld by courts all over the country such as one in Knoxville, Tennessee, where a student was suspended for wearing a t-shirt and belt buckle that contained the image of the Confederate flag. The courts constantly sided with the schools. In the process of doing so, courts have violated the First Amendment right to the freedom of speech of people all over the country.
Judge John Rodgers from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Rochester, New York stated on firstamendmentcenter.org that these rulings were made because, “A plainly reasonable interpretation of a Confederate flag, T-shirt or jacket is one of racial hostility or contempt, regardless of the subjective intent of the wearer.”
In actuality, however, the wearing of the Confederate symbol may be a legitimate way of showing pride in the heritage of the wearer. In fact, if every symbol that were offensive to a particular group of people was banned from display on items of clothing, then the wardrobe choices of the vast majority of people would be severely limited. There would be no rainbow shirts, and the ‘save second base’ shirts would be a thing of the past. Why is it okay to ‘heart boobies,’ but not okay to proudly display a symbol of Southern pride?
While most people think that the Civil War was fought over slaves only, that is not true. “If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side,” said Union general Ulysses S. Grant. Granted, slavery was a “hot topic” during the Civil War, but the original reason the South seceded in the first place was to avoid suppression by a federal government that the Southern states believed was growing too big for its own good.
Admittedly, many people have strong opinions against any display of the ‘stars and bars.’ They feel that anyone displaying the symbol must be a racist who needs to be punished and made to be politically correct. These people, however well-intentioned, are misguided. They think that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and hatred of African Americans, but this thought is fundamentally flawed. While some people may look at it as a way to express their feelings toward a certain race, these people are few and far between, and extremists exist in any and every sector of the population. For most people, the Confederate flag is a symbol of pride in their ancestors or friends, ancestors who valiantly risked their lives to fight for what their families, friends and neighbors wanted. And that is true democracy, the foundation upon which our country was built.
(Note: This editorial was written for the Five Freedoms Contest at Robert Morris University.)