Friday, March 03, 2006

Students sue over flag ban

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE -- Three high school students and their parents are suing the Blount County School Board and two school officials in connection with the ban on Confederate symbols currently in effect there. The suit will be filed today at the federal courthouse in Knoxville.

The suit charges that the students? constitutional rights were violated between May of 2005 and January of 2006, when they were subjected to disciplinary action for wearing items of clothing bearing the Confederate flag. The action taken against the students, as well as the ban on Confederate symbols itself, violates their First Amendment rights of free speech. The disciplinary action taken against them also violates Fourteenth Amendment principles of equal protection and due process, the suit alleges.

Knoxville Attorney Val Irion is acting as counsel for the students and their families, supported by the Southern Legal Resource Center of Black Mountain, North Carolina. The SLRC, as it is known, is a legal organization that specializes in civil rights cases involving Southern heritage and culture issues.

?In a school system that supposedly prizes diversity and allows students to wear and display all manner of ethnic and cultural symbols, these kids were discriminated against simply for taking pride in their own ancestry,? said Roger McCredie, the SLRC?s Executive Director.

On February 10, Irion sent a letter to William Blount Principal Steve Lafon, with copies to the school board, seeking a review of the school?s policy. He received no reply. ?That means the taxpayers of Knox County now are going to have to fund a lawsuit that?s been made necessary by their refusal even to discuss this matter.?

Earlier this week the SLRC settled a case out of court on behalf of its client Jacqueline Duty, a Kentucky student who was barred from her senior prom for wearing a, evening dress patterned after the Confederate flag. That case in turn was based on another SLRC victory, Castorina v. Madison County Schools, in which an appellate court struck down a school board?s ban on Confederate symbols. The Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Castorina case was heard, includes Tennessee, McCredie noted. ?The Blount County School Board?s legal counsel must surely be aware of that,? McCredie said.

Irion will act as lead attorney in the case, with SLRC Chief Trial Counsel Kirk D. Lyons acting as co-counsel, McCredie said.

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