September 16, 2015

Christine Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, provided the following statement in response to Kettering City School District’s decision to ban display of the Confederate flag after controversy arose surrounding students flying the flag from their vehicles.

“As an organization that has fought for civil rights for almost 100 years, the ACLU recognizes that for many the Confederate Flag represents a painful history. At the same time, suppression of constitutionally protected expression goes against our founding principles as a nation. As the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, students’ rights don’t end at the schoolhouse gate—they also don’t end in the school parking lot.

“The First Amendment protects the right to express any viewpoint, no matter how unpopular, and therein lies its strength. It is not up to the government—be it the local school district or Congress—to decide for us which speech is acceptable.”

A number of court decisions protect students’ right to express themselves at school, even when their ideas are unpopular or controversial—most famously Tinker v. Des Moines, which allows censorship of student speech only if the administration can prove it would “materially and substantially” disrupt the operation of the school or interfere with another’s rights. Courts have since upheld that the potential to offend is not enough to constitute a material disruption.

In addition to defending the freedom of expression, the ACLU of Ohio fights doggedly for racial justice and equality in Ohio, including work to end racial disparities in our criminal justice and education systems.