Supreme Court refuses Confederate flag T-shirt case

A Tennessee school's ban on T-shirts showing the Confederate flag will stand, after Supreme Court dismisses students' appeal.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A group of high school students in Tennessee has lost a lawsuit aimed at forcing school administrators to allow them to wear T-shirts to school displaying the Confederate flag.

A lawyer for the students had taken their free speech fight to the US Supreme Court. On Monday the high court dismissed the case, Barr v. LaFon, without comment.

The action stems from a lawsuit challenging a 2005 policy banning images of the Confederate flag at William Blount High School in Maryville, Tenn.

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The ban was enacted during a period of heightened racial tension at the school following an altercation between an African-American student and a white student. In the months that followed, racist graffiti began appearing on school walls, including a drawing of a noose next to a Confederate flag in the boys' restroom.

Between August 2005 and March 2006, school officials encountered 452 student dress-code violations, including 23 involving displays of the Confederate flag, according to court documents.

Three students, Derek Barr, Roger Craig White, and Chris White, filed a lawsuit claiming the school's anti-Confederate flag policy frustrated their desire to express their Southern heritage by wearing clothing depicting the Confederate flag to school.

School officials said their policy was aimed at preventing a disruption to the educational process in light of growing racial tensions on the campus. Director of Blount County Schools, Alvin Hord, said he did not ban the Confederate flag because it was a "racist symbol," but because of the ongoing racial confrontation at the school.

A federal judge agreed with school officials, upholding the school's ban. That ruling was later affirmed by the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

In rejecting the case, the US Supreme Court action leaves in place the appeals court's August 2008 ruling upholding the school policy barring depictions of the Confederate flag on T-shirts and other clothing at school. The appeals court said school officials could reasonably forecast that images of the Confederate flag would "substantially and materially disrupt the school environment."

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