American Flag T-Shirt Ban Was Well Within The Rights Of This California High School, Court Rules

A Californian high school was within its rights to ban its students from wearing American-flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. Back in 2010, Live Oak High School prohibited the Stars and Stripes in an effort to keep teens "safe" amid racial tensions, and asked teens who were wearing the American flag T-shirt to turn it inside out. According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday, school administrators' decision "presciently avoided an altercation."

The high school in Northern California has a history of race-related gang violence. Four years ago, Cinco de Mayo, the annual celebration of Mexican heritage, sparked fears of fights and disturbances. In an effort to curb potential scuffles, staff asked students to turn their T-shirts with American flags inside out. Students refused and brought a civil rights suit against the school, saying their rights to due process, equal protection, and freedom of expression had been violated.

Now, the school has won the lawsuit: The court unanimously agreed the administration's concern and prioritization of safety outweighed the teens' freedom of expression. Additionally, no First Amendment rights were infringed upon, the court ruled. The written decision explained that schools could legally single out specific symbols, provided there is evidence they might cause substantial disruptions.

Live Oak High School's concerns stemmed from an incident during 2009's Cinco de Mayo, when there was an altercation involving groups of predominantly white and Mexican students. After exchanging profanities and threats, one group hung a makeshift American flag on one of the campus trees and started chanting "U-S-A." The Mexican students who had been walking around with a Mexican flag responded by shouting, "F--k them white boys," according to court documents.

Students involved in the 2010 case argued that they were discriminated against, because those wearing the colors of the Mexican flag weren't required to change. William Becker Jr., who represented the students who sued, said he would ask a larger panel to review the decision. The school should have just canceled the celebration, Becker Jr. insisted, instead of preventing the teens from expressing their "patriotic freedom."