Evidently the student body at Broadway High School is up in arms that some students were asked not to fly the Confederate flag. The DNR's story, which (oddly enough) omitted the information that some of the flag wavers were yelling the n-bomb and "dirty Mexican" at minority students, generated over three hundred comments, most of which "proved" that the Civil War was not about slavery and therefore the Confederate flag ought not to be offensive to minorities.
My favorite comment was #119:
"Slavery was a more complex institution than what text books are teaching these kids. Beatings did occur, but so did the task system in which slaves were allowed to have a somewhat autonomous existence. Rapes also occurred, but so did playtime between black and white children. Furthermore the South that we all know and love has been significantly shaped African influences. There would be no front porches on our houses if it weren't for the influence of African architecture. We would not eat sweet potatoes, rice, or okra without the influence of African cuisine. Bluegrass music wouldn't be what it is without the banjo, a traditionally African instrument."
The commentator is right to note that slavery was a complex institution that is glossed over in most history textbooks (Bailey being a notable exception). But note the equivalencies. I guess black and white playtime balances out the whole beatings and rape thing. And don't porches, okra, and banjos tip things into the good column?
Aside from the issue of what the Civil War was about, there is the issue of student free speech. I'm disappointed that the article's author did not note that students do not have absolute First Amendment rights. There is a good summary of student speech case law here. I think Tinker is the most on point: Administrators can only ban symbolic speech (anti-war armbands or, as in this case, Confederate flags) if there a reasonable expectation by an adminstrator that the speech would "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school" and/or the speech collides with "the rights of other students to be secure and be let alone." From the Tinker decision:
The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners. There is here no evidence whatever of petitioners' interference, actual or nascent, with the schools' work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, this case does not concern speech or action that intrudes upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.
Only a few of the 18,000 students in the school system wore the black armbands. Only five students were suspended for wearing them. There is no indication that the work of the schools or any class was disrupted. Outside the classrooms, a few students made hostile remarks to the children wearing armbands, but there were no threats or acts of violence on school premises.
The District Court concluded that the action of the school authorities was reasonable because it was based upon their fear of a disturbance from the wearing of the armbands. But, in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression. Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority's opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom, or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk, Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949); and our history says that it is this sort of hazardous freedom--this kind of openness--that is  the basis of our national strength and of the independence and vigor of Americans who grow up and live in this relatively permissive, often disputatious, society.
In order for the State in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, it must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint. Certainly where there is no finding and no showing that engaging in the forbidden conduct would "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school," the prohibition cannot be sustained...
Although the particular case supported the students, the Tinker precedent has actually led to a diminuation of student free speech rights because the courts have shown great deference to school administrators' "reasonableness." If an administrator can articulate how they anticipate student speech disrupting the educational environment, then they have generally been on safe ground.
Critics have noted that allowing reactions to speech to influence whether the speech is acceptable amounts to ratification of a heckler's veto.
Pretend that the suspended students from Broadway have filed a lawsuit challenging their suspension. You are a judge hearing their case. Do you support the school administration or the suspended students? Explain your ruling and reasoning in the comments. Please use the Tinker guidelines.