Eighth graders are sometimes prone to misunderstandings about our rights, our laws and the Constitution. Like thinking First Amendment prohibits talking about religion in school, when in reality, while the establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits public schools from taking advantage of mandatory school attendance to promote or anyone religion over another, but the free exercise clause actually protects students religious rights. Adult, lawyers, politicians and activists argue about the nuances but the Amendment itself is really pretty clear.
The thing is, if eighth graders misunderstand things, you can bet that plenty of adults have similar misunderstandings.
Here’s another one I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Kids are beginning to think that the confederate flag is illegal. While I for one am morally opposed to slavery, secession, interposition, nullification, racism, white supremacy, treason and all things that the “stars and bars” stands for, it is not illegal.
Kids see that state governments like South Carolina (thank God) are removing the confederate battle flag from official government locations, public protest and corporate media backing away from displays of the flag (like no longer broadcasting reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard) and conflating these actions with the banning 0f this symbol of hate.
If students who are either opposed to the flag or indifferent to it mistakenly assume that it’s being censored, no wonder anti-government, anti-establishment or anti-authoritarian adults, especially those in favor of the things this flag stands for are wound-up about it being “banned,” when really public pressure is leading governments not to ban it everywhere but just from being officially sanctioned and promoted by government itself.
Another case of how perception is more powerful than fact.
Personally, I love that this symbol is being oppressed out of common place not by law or government, but simply by peer pressure. By social and economic forces, not legislative ones. But let’s face it, I doubt it will disappear entirely. If anything, it may be more potent in smaller, rarer doses. Or who knows, maybe it will be re-appropriated or re-purposed like the “n-word.” Wouldn’t it be ironic if forty years from now it becomes a a symbol of Black urban youth instead of White “red-neck” pride?
At any rate, the First Amendment’s protections of speech, press, expression, association and perhaps especially our freedom to petition for redress of grievances actually protect misguided Americans’ right to display the confederate flag and prevent governments from banning it’s private display. Though it is good and right that governments which represent ALL Americans should no longer themselves display this symbol of hate and rebellion.
Sure would be nice if more of us understood our own rights and laws better than we do though.
We need to be, like Martin Luther King wrote, tough-minded and tender-hearted; but all too often too many of us are soft-minded and hard-hearted.
Meanwhile, we should also remember the words of Voltaire’s biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The First Amendment prohibits the American government from banning the confederate flag- in spite of the fact that it represents a treacherous insurrection which sought to destroy it. The fact that it is we the people, collectively though privately, rather than the government who are pressuring for the removal of it from the public scene- is more powerful, more meaningful, and hopefully will be more thorough and permanent.