Confederate Flag Attire and School Dress Codes, Revisited

Confederate_Third_National_Flag_-_CanceledThe Supreme Court has, without comment, declined to review the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in Hardwick v. Heyward. We previously discussed the case, where then-high school student Candice Hardwick repeatedly violated her high school’s dress code by wearing various Confederate flag t-shirts. The Fourth Circuit applied the Tinker substantial disruption standard, looking at evidence of racial tension in the school and past incidents involving displays of the flag (including on South Carolina’s state capitol grounds), concluding that “school officials could predict that the Confederate flag would cause a disruption.” 

Hardwick appealed the Fourth Circuit’s March ruling. As reported, her attorney Kirk D. Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC) had this to say: “The school and the courts will not respect your children’s inalienable rights to proclaim and be proud of their Southern Heritage [sic], and in all areas of traditional culture it will only get worse!” The SLRC, while proclaiming to defend the “legal and civil rights of all Americans,” is especially concerned for “America’s most persecuted minority: Confederate Southern Americans.” 

Bemoaning the “fall” of Tinker, SLRC makes note of some other shirts banned in Hardwick’s high school: “t-shirts declaring ‘I AM BLACK,’ images of ‘controversial figures’ such as Malcolm X and Bob Marley, as well as displays declaring pride in differing sexual orientations.” Despite the odious source (and the dubious claim of concern for everyone’s rights), one is reminded that the First Amendment permits a wide range of speech, and the legal debate around what messages and images are allowed in public schools is worth having. The Tinker standard and the clash of school discipline and free expression are discussed in the Dressing Disruptively chapter of Dressing Constitutionally.

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