Please attribute the following statement to Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, on the public display of Confederate flags by high school students in Lake Arrowhead, CA:
The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) understands the deep concerns expressed over the display of Confederate flags by a group of students at Rim of the World High School in Lake Arrowhead. In today’s increasingly polarized political climate, it is incumbent on schools to maintain an inclusive, safe, and nurturing environment for all students.
The ACLU SoCal shares the view that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate and intolerance which celebrates a war fought to keep people in bondage and terrorizes the descendants of the enslaved. It is an affront to this nation’s values and is best left in the past. While we are committed to defending the freedom of expression, we are equally committed to fighting vigorously for an end to racial disparities in our education systems.
Still, regardless of whether displaying the flag is protected expression under both the California and U.S. Constitutions, California has unique statutory protections for student speech. The state standard is that students have the same free-speech rights on campus as adults have in any public space. The courts have been clear that adults have the right to display the Confederate flag.
But schools do not have to be passive in the face of controversial speech. We hope any school faced with such a sensitive situation would see it as an opportunity for learning. We encourage Rim of the World High School to counter this offensive display with open dialogue on the racist history of the Confederate flag, the racial divides splitting our nation, and the importance of the right to free expression under state law and the First Amendment. Moreover, the school would do well to teach its students that hateful speech is usually best addressed through more speech.