Banning the American Flag in an American Public School–Outrageous

Today, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), on behalf of three students and their parents, filed its opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a case challenging the constitutionality of a ban on the wearing of American flag shirts.  In this brief, we are asking the appellate court to reverse a decision by a lower federal court in San Francisco that upheld a school district’s ban on the wearing of American flag shirts on a California high school campus during Cinco de Mayo (May 5th)—a Mexican holiday—for fear of offending Mexican students.  You can read our brief here.  And you can read more about this outrageous case here.

It is truly a sad day in our Nation’s history when government officials ban the American flag on a public high school campus for any reason.

Indeed, America’s pre-eminent symbol of principled unity and pride—the American flag—should not have to be stowed away in students’ lockers on days designated to celebrate the nationalistic pride of any other nation or culture.  If prior precedents protecting the right to freedom of speech have any practical meaning, then school officials—anticipating any form of discomfort from competing political views—should be prepared to inculcate in their student populations the spirit and magnificence of the First Amendment’s place in the shaping of democratic values.  Thus, it is far better to teach students about the First Amendment and about why we tolerate divergent views than to suppress speech.  In fact, the school’s proper response is to educate the audience rather than squelch the speaker.

This means respect for the flag, respect for the Nation, and respect for the speech rights of all American students.  Promoting divisive policies that exalt hostility to national pride subverts the vital role that public schools are meant to serve, and it undermines—indeed violates—fundamental constitutional principles.

The Ninth Circuit should reverse the lower court and hold that the school district violated the students’ fundamental right to freedom of speech.  We will keep you posted as this case develops.