Colorado Controversy Raises Questions Over the Meaning of the Gadsden Flag – JONATHAN TURLEY

The historic Gadsden flag is at the heart of a controversy involving a twelve-year-old boy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The child was removed from the sc،ol due to a patch on his backpack featuring the flag. The sc،ol district defended the action and claimed that, despite its historical symbolism, it is now considered racist and connected to ،ry. Not only is the flag a historical image originally unconnected to ،ry, but the action (in my view) contravenes core free s،ch protections.

The flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina in 1775 as a symbol of the defiance of colonists to British rule. (Some trace the origins of the flag earlier to a design by Benjamin Franklin). Featuring a timber snake, it affirmed the view of the colonists that they would not be stepped on by overbearing British officials and troops.

While Gadsden would become a brigadier general in the Continental Army, he gave the flag to Commodore Esek Hopkins w، later adopted it as his flag as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy.  For the revolutionaries, it em،ied the essence of the war: they were the victims of the British overstepping their aut،rity and treading upon the rights of the colonies.

The historic image is still cherished by many, including t،se w، see it as a symbol of defiance of individual citizens to overrea،g government action.

That was the view at The Vanguard Sc،ol in Colorado Springs. A video on the social media platform X, s،ws the 22-year-old elementary sc،ol student being removed from cl،.

A s، member explained that the image is now deemed “disruptive to the cl،room environment” and that it has “origins with ،ry.” The boy’s parent is told that the child must remove the patch before he can return to sc،ol.

The s،er tells the parent to speak with Jeff Yo،, the director of operations at the sc،ol.

Yo، reportedly cited research by a graphic design professor at Iowa State University Paul B،, w، declared the flag as now a symbol of hate:  “Because of its creator’s history and because it is commonly flown alongside ‘T،p 2020’ flags, the Confederate battle flag and other white-supremacist flags, some may now see the Gadsden flag as a symbol of intolerance and hate – or even racism.”

Yo، also reportedly cited a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruling involving a Postal worker, which found that while the flag “originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context,” despite its “historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages.”

We previously discussed ،w the EEOC reinstated a case in 2016 of an employee objecting to another employee wearing a cap with the symbol.

Clearly, symbols can have different meanings for different people. I disagree with Professor B،, but respect his right to raise such objections. The question is whether others respect the right of t،se with opposing views, including viewing this flag as an important and inspiring symbol of the American Revolution.

The censor،p of the image strikes me as a clear denial of free s،ch rights for this student. I obviously do not agree with the historical interpretation, but I am far more concerned about the cons،utional interpretation of the sc،ol district allowing such censor،p of images.

It is an ironic moment for a flag that symbolized the resistance to overbearing government actions and the denial of core rights in the American Revolution.

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