(CN) – A school district in Tennessee can ban students from wearing displaying the Confederate flag to prevent disturbances and racial conflict, the 6th Circuit ruled Thursday.
“Anderson County school officials enforce the ban in a viewpoint-neutral manner and only banned those symbols they have reasonably forecasted will substantially disrupt or materially interfere with schoolwork and school discipline,” Judge Eric Clay wrote for the three-judge panel.
The Anderson County School Board decided to ban Confederate flags as part of its dress code due to racial tension in many of its schools, including Clinton High School, which was integrated in 1956.
John Burrell, chairman of the county school board, said he opposed lifting the ban “as long as we have a racially mixed group with some of those students who I think [the flag] would be offensive to.” He added that once a student is offended, “the next step is a fight, a riot, that type of situation.”
School officials cited incidents in which black or Hispanic students have been taunted with racial slurs, graffiti, KKK references, and images of Confederate flags and swastikas.
A student, through his father, challenged the ban in federal court, and the case went to trial.
A mistrial was declared in 2008 when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The federal court later dismissed the lawsuit, and the 6th Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling for the school district.
Judge Clay said the dress code’s ban on racially divisive symbols, including the Confederate flag, is “narrowly tailored” to the state and school’s interest in fostering a safe, productive learning environment.
“A plainly reasonable interpretation of a Confederate flag T-shirt or jacket is one of racial hostility or contempt, regardless of the subjective intent of the wearer,” Judge John Rogers wrote in a concurring opinion.