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Court Approves School’s Ban on American Flag T-Shirts — and the Reason Is Ludicrous

American Flag

Is there really any circumstance where this can be offensive? In the United States? Really?

When Texanna Edwards wore a dress made out of a Confederate Flag to Tennessee’s Gibson County High School’s prom in the spring of 2012, she feigned shock that she was asked to leave the party for donning such offensive attire, telling the Jackson Sun that she thought her flag gown was loved by all of her classmates.

Perhaps Edwards legitimately believed (since an uncomfortable amount of people down south still see the Confederate flag in some twisted, antiquated way as synonymous with the rebel flag) that others would forget the vast majority still rightly associate it with the Confederacy, which stood for slavery along with a deadly emblem of hate against African-Americans during the American Civil War.

For that reason, and for too many others to count, there’s no question why scores of schools across the country have dress-codes in place — so kids don’t dress too provocatively, inappropriately, or offensively.

However, at Live Oak High School near San Jose, California, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just upheld a specific clothing ban there that just might leave you scratching your head. The school is prohibiting students from wearing American flag T-shirts. Not every day, mind you — just on May 5th, which is when the popular holiday of Cinco de Mayo is celebrated annually in the United States. (According to Yahoo News, Cinco de Mayo “commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla and celebrates Mexican culture, heritage and pride ,[but is] popular in the United States [and] largely unrecognized in Mexico.”)

Back in 2010, five students at Live Oak High School were told by administrators to either turn their American flag T-shirts inside out or go home. When upholding the ruling over the shirts, the court also cited an incident in which two students were “threatened with violence” for wearing the flag. Another time, students of “Mexican descent” told an assistant principal that they would “f— up” a group of kids who were standing around an American flag hung on the campus and chanting “USA.” In 2009, according to Yahoo News, text messages were allegedly sent by gang members threatening to beat up kids wearing American flag T-shirts on the holiday.

Taken together, these incidents were enough to prompt school officials to ban American flag T-shirts every May 5th. The flags of other countries are permitted to be worn (since officials said there were no violence issues associated with any other countries), just not that of the U.S.

Some parents were unhappy with the ban and sued the district for what they felt was a violation of their kids’ First Amendment rights. The ban was upheld in court since it was proven that safety concerns trumped free speech.

I’m proud to be an American, but I didn’t start pinning an American flag to my lapel after 9/11. If asked, I don’t think I could instantly cite the exact anniversaries of D-Day or V-E Day. I respect and appreciate our soldiers, but I never would have enlisted when I was the appropriate age, and I would fight tooth and nail to prevent a child of mine from ever enlisting for fear of their personal safety.

All of this is to say: I’m all for America and it’s associated freedoms, but I don’t think this ban is totally whacked just because I’m a patriot. I think it’s totally whacked because I don’t understand why the bullies aren’t being asked to curb their behavior. Why are the kids wearing American flag T-shirts — not pornographic, anti-American, racist, sexist, homophobic, overtly sexual, or eminently disrespectful T-shirts — being punished? Why not punish the kids picking on those who wear their red, white, and blue with pride?

Maybe the kids wearing the American flag T-shirts are doing so on May 5th out of some sort of passive-aggressive action or as a distorted, attempted display of racial superiority. But how about turning the calendar back a few months and working with the entire student body in advance of Cinco de Mayo by opening up a discussion about race relations, national pride (whatever the nationality), and respect for all — and then also underscoring and outlining the consequences for threatening or violent behavior?

A message is being sent, but it’s the wrong one. What’s happening is bullying, but instead of restricting the aggressors it seems the victims are the ones being restricted.

Image credit: Wikipedia

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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