- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

A conservative legal group is suing a school system in Kansas on behalf of a student who was forced to turn his Confederate T-shirt inside out or face disciplinary action.
The First Amendment lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City against Leavenworth High School officials, is believed to be the first in Kansas challenging policies that discourage or prohibit students from wearing clothing that bears Confederate symbols.
"We shouldn't allow the prejudicial opinions of one person to overrule our constitutional rights," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which is representing the student. "The right to free speech extends even to what some people consider to be offensive. That's what our Constitution protects."
Neither the high school, nor the school district has a policy that prohibits the wearing of clothes depicting the Confederate battle flag.
Leavenworth School District officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Kansas case is the latest in a string of legal challenges filed against more than a dozen school districts that have banned students from wearing Confederate symbols. The battle flag lost prominence in recent years as states bowed to economic and social pressures to remove the symbol from their flags and public buildings.
Organizers said at least 60 districts from Virginia to Texas have been targeted for federal lawsuits charging violation of free speech or for complaints to the Department of Education charging civil rights violations. Most cases involving children punished for wearing Confederate emblems have occurred in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Virginia.
"It almost rises to an ethnic cleansing," said Kirk Lyons, executive council member for the Army of Northern Virginia Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). "This is institional bias. These kids are displaying the flag for honorable reasons, and they're being treated like criminals and that's just plain wrong."
According to the Kansas complaint, the school's principal, James VanMaanen, prohibited David Kennedy, 17, from wearing the T-shirt after Mr. VanMaanen said wearing such a shirt was "racist."
David, who is an SCV member, received a "Legends in Gray" T-shirt for his birthday last October. The T-shirt depicts three small Confederate flags one of which is the battle flag on the front and a large 1861-1865 map of Georgia with pictures of famous Confederate Civil War heroes on the back.
The SCV is a historical men's organization whose members are descendants of veterans who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.
David and his father, Edwin Kennedy, who is an ROTC instructor at the high school, declined requests for an interview.
In the 12-page lawsuit, Rutherford's lawyers argue that Mr. VanMaanen's decision to prohibit David from wearing the T-shirt violates the boy's rights to free speech. It also said Leavenworth school officials had twice before ordered other students to turn their Confederate T-shirts inside out or leave school grounds.
The complaint contends that school officials did allow a black student to wear a similar T-shirt. Furthermore, the complaint states that school officials do not discipline or prohibit students from wearing Malcolm X T-shirts, ones that have a red "X" drawn over the Christian cross, or shirts that promote satanic worship.


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