Ban on Heritage!…continued

It is a sentiment that is apparently widely shared at Cherokee, and beyond. The day after Cherokee Principal Bill Sebring announced the T-shirt ban on the school's intercom this fall, more than 100 students were either sent home or told to change clothes when they defiantly wore the shirts to school. In the weeks that followed, angry parents and Confederate heritage groups organized flag-waving protests outside the school and at several school board meetings.

"All hell broke loose," said Tom Roach, an attorney for the Cherokee County school system. When principals banned the shirts at other county high schools in the past, he said, "there was no public outcry. No complaints. No problems."
Elsewhere in the South, civil rights groups have mobilized to remove the banner in recent years. But that campaign has stirred a resentful backlash from groups that view it as an attack on their heritage.

"We're not in a battle just for that flag, we're in a battle to determine whether our Southern heritage and culture survives," said Dan Coleman, public relations director for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of the groups that joined the protests at Cherokee High School.

The battle over Confederate-themed clothing has made its way to the courts, which generally have sided with school dress codes that prevent items that officials deem disruptive.
By contrast, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit earlier this year revived a lawsuit by two Kentucky students suspended for wearing shirts featuring the Confederate flag. The court said the reasons for the suspension were vague and remanded the case to a lower court, where it was dismissed after the school district settled with the students.

Also, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit earlier this fall sided with a Washington, N.J., student who challenged his school's ban on a T-shirt displaying the word "redneck." The student was suspended from Warren Hills Regional High School for wearing the shirt, which school officials said violated their ban on clothing that portrays racial stereotypes. The school's vice principal said he took "redneck" to mean a violent, bigoted person.

But the court overturned the ban, saying the shirt was not proven to be disruptive. School officials, noting the school has a history of racial tensions, have promised to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

"Since last year, we have gotten well over 200 complaints about the banning of Confederate symbols in schools," said Kirk Lyons, lead counsel for the Southern

Legal Resource Center, a North Carolina-based public-interest law firm that works to protect Confederate heritage and is in discussions with some families at Cherokee High School. He said the center is litigating six lawsuits and that dozens of others challenging Confederate clothing bans have been filed across the country.

As the controversy grows, Confederate-themed clothing has become more popular than ever. The owner of Georgia-based Dixie Outfitters says the firm sold 1 million T-shirts last year through the company's Web site and department stores across the South. Most of the shirts depict Southern scenes and symbols, often with the Confederate emblem.

"This is not your typical, in-your-face redneck type of shirt," said Dewey Barber, the firm's owner. "They are espousing the Southern way of life. We're proud of our heritage down here."
Barber said he is "troubled" that his shirts are frequently banned by school officials who view them as offensive. "You can have an Iraqi flag in school. You can have the Russian flag. You can have every flag but the Confederate flag. It is puzzling and disturbing," he said.

In an angry letter to Cherokee Principal Sebring posted on its Web site, Dixie Outfitters called the two families who complained about the shirts -- but asked not to be identified publicly -- "race baiters."

"Are you going to ban the American flag, if one or two people out of 1,800 find it offensive, because it had more to do with the slave trade than any other flag, including the battle flag?" the letter asks.

It is an argument made by many who do not understand why some people find the Confederate battle flag deeply offensive. "The Confederate flag itself is not racist," said Rick Simpson, Ree's father. "It was the American flag that brought slaves to this country."

David Ray, a Cherokee County contractor, said his son, Eric, has been punished with in-school suspensions a couple of times this year for defying a Confederate T-shirt ban at Etowah High, another Cherokee County school. He said he couldn't understand why the shirts are causing such a fuss.

"Slavery ended almost 150 years ago," Ray said. "You might have some parents who still hold the slavery issue or black versus white deep in their hearts. But for the most part, I think, people are over that."

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