Saturday, April 4, 2009

Editorial: A Familiar Story (Almost)

Originally published in the Spring, 2006 issue of The Lost Cause

It’s a familiar story: a school principal told students they wouldn’t be allowed to wear cherished symbols of their heritage. In a more famous incident a couple of years ago, it was over a dress at the school prom. In this case it was sashes at graduation ceremonies. Time after time, Southern students have faced heritage and viewpoint discrimination. We have fought tooth and nail to defend what should be obvious first amendment rights of all students, and yet even after the victories in Castorina and just recently Duty, some school systems still don’t get it. I’ve seen the sashes in question, and just like Jacqueline Duty’s prom dress, they were tastefully done, and obviously without intent to offend or disrupt. There was one difference in this case, though: the students were black and the sashes intended to reflect African heritage.

So who came to their rescue? Our good friend and key attorney on both the Castorina and Duty cases, Earl-Ray Neal from Richmond. He met with the principal of Lexington’s Tates Creek High School and used our Castorina precedent—yes the “Confederate Flag Case” - to convince the principal of these students’ rights to honor their African heritage, and they got to wear their sashes to graduation. One of the students, Kamisha Allen, detecting the media’s incorrect sense of irony in Neal defending African heritage right after winning settlement in the Duty suit, said “I feel that (Neal) is not (only) a lawyer for the Confederate flag, (he's) a lawyer for the First Amendment.” Congratulations, Kamisha, you’ve proven yourself smarter than many school principals. A prime function of the first amendment is defending speech and expression from the tyranny of the majority, the tyranny of the politically correct, and the tyranny of the school bureaucrat. All we’ve done in the Confederate heritage community is ask for fair treatment for everyone, and fair treatment for everyone’s symbols and heritage. It’s our heritage usually that takes the worst beating on the front lines of this onslaught against civil rights, but we are not alone and rejoice at victory for any ethnic group whose heritage and symbols come under fire.

So, it has to be asked, when this free speech infringement came about , where was the NAACP? Where was the Southern Poverty Law Center? Where was the ACLU? We know where the NAACP has been—pressuring the Ohio County school system to institute illegal bans on their students’ speech. Oops. The Southern Poverty Law Center? Too busy printing articles full of untruths, half-truths and misleading innuendo about the SCV. The ACLU? Frankly, they don’t yet seem to understand the severity of the problem, and I think don’t yet understand just exactly how hard we have to fight to win these situations, nor have what it takes to fight like that.

With the organizations one might expect to be the first to jump at this situation absent from the fray, what to do? Why, send in the Confederates of course! We’ve been at this long enough, and won enough precedents, that we’ve got anyone else’s school first amendment battles half-won already. While Earl-Ray Neal isn’t an SCV member, his experiences fighting along side us on the free speech front lines made him an imposing opponent for the school, and the principal caved faster than a cake falling in the oven. Earl-Ray didn’t have to call in the SCV reserves on this one, but it’s almost too bad we didn’t get a chance to mobilize. It would have been fun. So, to the students of Tates Creek High School: for Castorina, for Duty, for spending the last 8 years insuring your right to wear your sashes to graduation: you’re welcome.

I just hope that the next time students are mistreated for their Confederate heritage, though, that you’ll feel welcome to join us in the fight. Kamisha is right—Castorina and the first amendment are for everyone, and we welcome all sincere allies who will join us.

Don Shelton

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