Do high school football fans have a constitutional right to display the American flag at games?
That question headlined Jacob Gershman’s piece in a recent Wall Street Journal law blog. A North Carolina high school principal, Travelers Rest High School’s Lou Lavely, answered that question in the negative, justifying his ban of the American flag from the school’s home football games with the excuse that students had
used the US flag, in conjunction with verbal taunts, to target Hispanic members of the Berea community in a manner that was both unsportsmanlike and also a misuse of our flag[.]
Lavely’s move also was consistent with an earlier 9th Circuit ruling on the other side of the country that
a California high school didn’t infringe on the constitutional rights of white students who were told they couldn’t wear shirts displaying the American flag in an effort, the school said, to defuse a potential fight with Mexican students
a ruling that the Supreme Court then declined to review.
In the face of public outrage over the flag ban, Lavely reversed his position and “allowed” our flag to be displayed after all. However, that doesn’t cure the misunderstanding, both by Lavely and our courts, underlying such bans of our flag or of shirts with our flag imprinted on them or of any other such display.
The misunderstanding is in the cause of disruptions and how to deal with those disruptions.
Banning the American flag because its display might cause disruption is wrong-headed. The American flag, or displaying our flag—free speech generally—doesn’t cause disruptions. The disrupters cause disruptions, and they’re the ones who need to be dealt with.
Update: Clarified a sentence to say what I actually meant rather than the opposite. Also clarified a later paragraph.