A shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag and identifying the wearer as “Daddy’s Little Redneck” was just one of the sartorial choices school officials banned for Candice Hardwick, a South Carolina public school student.
She also sported other shirts embellished with the Confederate flag and announcing her identification with “Southern Chicks,” “Dixie Angels,” “Southern Girls,” “Black Confederates” and Robert E. Lee. Another shirt carried a picture of the South Carolina State House grounds with the Confederate flag flying and yet another one said: “Jesus and the Confederate Battle Flag: Banned from Our Schools but Forever in Our Hearts.”
Hardwick began butting heads with authorities in middle school over clothes she said expressed her pride in her Southern heritage. Her parents wrote to school authorities in Latta, S.C., supporting her choices as part of their family values and heritage, but school officials repeatedly made her change her shirts. She also had to serve an in-school suspension. When she sued in federal court, the district court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the school had followed the rules for handling the conflict.
The Confederate flag may excite emotions, the court said on March 25 in Hardwick v. Heyward, but in the end, wearing a Confederate flag shirt should be treated like any other case involving a student’s free-speech rights. School officials can regulate speech or clothing that is demonstrably disruptive to the learning environment.
Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Dennis W. Shedd said Latta is a small Southern town in which whites and African-Americans were segregated in school for more than a century, and although racial tension had diminished since schools were integrated in 1970, it has not completely disappeared.
School officials cited ample evidence from which they could reasonably forecast that Hardwick’s shirts would disrupt the work and discipline of the school. The school’s dress codes prohibiting clothes that would cause disruption were not overly broad, the panel said, citing the defendants’’ photos of other clothes banned under the dress code as being too sexually suggestive or promoting alcohol use or violence.