Political Correctness vs. Bureaucratic Laziness

A high school in North Carolina has banned the wearing of items with flags, which means that students cannot wear items with American flags. One report does mention a fight between two students wearing different flags. Right Wing News reports receiving email from someone involved which reports the problem as being related to gangs wearing flags.

There was opposition from this both the left and right. Liberal groups such as the ACLU defended the First Amendment right to expression, opposing restrictions on the wearing of any flags. From the ACLU’s press release:

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NC) sent a letter to the principal of Hobbton High School and the superintendent of the Sampson County school district today, urging the school to reverse its policy of banning students from wearing clothing that depicts the American flag or any other flag. According to news reports yesterday, a student was prohibited from wearing her Stars and Stripes commemorative t-shirt on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

“The school has no right to prevent this student – or any other student – from wearing a flag on her clothing,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU-NCLF. “Hobbton High School is violating students’ First Amendment rights to free expression.”

The ACLU-NCLF’s letter calls on the Sampson County school district to end its practice of censoring students’ wearing of flags and comply with the constitutional protection of student speech laid out in the landmark 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which affirmed the right of students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

The school has subsequently rescinded the rule.

The reaction from many conservative blogs demonstrated their limited world view. They were justifiably upset that students could not wear items with the American flag but generally expressed no concern for the restrictions on flags of other nations, showing lack of consideration of the civil liberties ramifications of their views.

Many conservative blogs also labeled this a case of political correctness, demonstrating how easily this label is applied by conservatives who often fight exaggerated problems. This is also extended to claims of support for this ban by progressive bloggers, extrapolating an isolated viewpoint as being representative. Rather than representing political correctness, this sounds more like narrow bureaucratic thinking. They used a simplistic solution in banning flags. Even if there was a legitimate reason why foreign flags must be banned it would make more sense to have an exclusion for the American flag rather than a blanket ban, but removing any such restrictions would be the preferred response.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    Jason says:

    Perhaps the school should teach the history of the United States flag and the Flag Code. Then kids would know that you shouldn’t be wearing a shirt with a flag on it anyway.

  2. 2
    Nathan says:

    Meh, I’ve always found the Flag Code rather silly and arbitrary. Thankfully it’s advisory-only, so we’re totally free to ignore it. You follow it if you like it, though.

    I love this country, but I would be appalled if the Flag Code ever became enforced by violence. The symbol should never become more important than that which it represents.

  3. 3
    Jason says:

    Well, the Flag Code is about respecting the flag. You can find it silly and arbitrary if you want. Many people find opening doors for women, saying “thank you,” and calling people in a position of authority “sir” silly and arbitrary too. However, I would argue that lack of respect has led to problems in social situations and the like. Plus, respecting something does not mean it becomes more important than what it represents, it ties in to you respecting what it represents. I’m not sure why you brought up enforcement by any means, especially violence. That is kind of swinging the conversation into an area it doesn’t need to go in. Nobody is condoning enforcement by any means. You don’t get tasered for calling your parents’ friend Jim instead of Mr. Smith.

  4. 4
    Nathan says:

    I was taught the history of the flag and the flag code in high school, and I though it was a whole lot of unnecessary ritual thought up by some dead control freaks. Merely telling me about it didn’t compel me (or any of my fellow students) not to violate it, so clearly just talking about it doesn’t do the trick.

    In light of the above, I took you to mean that you wanted to enforce the flag code, preventing people from having flags on their shirts and such. The idea of someone being forcibly punished for doing anything to the American flag would be placing the symbol (the flag) above what it nominally represents (freedom of speech and other enlightenment values). And what other means of enforcement is there aside from violence?

    I might also point out that flags are not people, and disrespecting a human being is qualitatively different from the fictional disrespect implied by wearing stars and stripes on a t-shirt.

    And I would vigorously argue that too much undue respect for flags has historically been the cause of far more problems than too little.

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