There are, as we are almost all aware, certain terms and symbols that are often used in the service of intolerance and hatred. Racial epithets, homophobic slurs, swastikas and the Confederate flag are just a few examples. Such words and images are well outside the bounds of good taste and create instant tension whenever and wherever they are used. In many cases, they cause genuine emotional pain and psychological distress on the part of those social groups at whom they are directed. But does their use merit a civil dispute?
A school bus driver who was recently fired for refusing to remove a Confederate flag sticker from his pickup truck thinks so. And a federal magistrate agrees.
The bus driver, a six-year employee of the same school, has recently filed a civil lawsuit, claiming that his termination was a violation of his First Amendment right to free expression. The magistrate judged that the case should go to trial, rather than be dismissed. The damage being done by the sticker, which was never in view of the students, did not outweigh the driver’s right to express himself freely, he reasoned.
The need to protect the right to express ideas that society might find offensive, the magistrate said, is fundamental to democracy. Although the flag has a well-documented history of incendiary potential, an ultimatum such as the school gave the bus driver is unconstitutional, he explained. A federal judge now must evaluate the magistrate’s recommendation and determine if indeed the case should go to trial.
The Confederate flag is a particularly controversial symbol in American history. This is partially due to the multiple interpretations to which it has historically lent itself. Many Americans see it as an unequivocal sign of racial intolerance. Others, like the bus driver, identify with the flag solely as a symbol of pride in their redneck lifestyle. According to the driver, no racial implications were intended by his use of the flag.
Source: csmonitor.com, “Free speech: Can school fire ‘redneck’ over Confederate flag on his truck?” Warren Richey, Aug. 2, 2012