Oregon School Board Flag Censors Failed Patriotism Test, by Corey Friedman
When Oregon school officials attempted to ban political symbols from the classroom, English teacher Gail Grobey gave a masterful lesson in malicious compliance.
The Newberg School Board chose to remove the Black Lives Matter and LGBT pride flags and ordered a blacklist for political paraphernalia. Grobey responded by taking down the American flag, telling local newspaper The Newberg Graphic that the star-spangled banner was “the most political symbol there is.”
His protest drew Fox News coverage and a reprimand from the American Family Association, whose president lambasted “Marxists who intend to dismantle our Republic” in an exaggerated press release. But conservative critics are sounding a false alarm.
Grobey isn’t the iconic America-hating public school teacher that traditionalists too often refer to. She’s a patriot who honors Old Glory in her absence, pushing the district’s flag ban to its logical conclusion as an uplifting tale of censorship and its aftermath.
The trouble began on August 10, when the school board voted 4 to 3 to order the Newberg public school principal to remove the BLM and gay pride symbols from district facilities. The board also called on its policy committee to draft rules banning the display of political signs, symbols and flags.
Vice President Brian Shannon has described pro-black and pro-LGBT equipment as “symbols of division” that distract schools from their educational mission.
Teacher Stacey Dalton told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the banners are simply “messages of love and support” for students who may feel marginalized because of their race or sexual orientation.
Although a second vote is needed to pass the policies, the preliminary school board approval triggered a swift reaction. The Oregon State Board of Education has called on Newberg’s board of directors to reverse the measures, and the American Civil Liberties Union affiliate has threatened to sue if the forced withdrawal of the flag took effect.
The ban on so-called political symbols violates the First Amendment. While teachers cannot indoctrinate or proselytize students, they retain the right to speak out and speak out on matters of public interest. In a 1968 case, the Supreme Court overturned the dismissal of an Illinois teacher for criticizing his school board in a local newspaper.
School districts cannot legally implement blanket bans on political speech, and even if they could, targeting Black Lives Matter symbols and rainbow flags as the first thing to do is blatant discrimination based on the point of view – a cardinal constitutional sin.
In an August 30 letter, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon legal director Kelly Simon and Portland communications attorney Alan Galloway warned Newberg school leaders that policies are legally indefensible , noting that the free expression clause in the state of Oregon’s constitution is “independent of, and even broader than, the First Amendment.”
A right-wing voting bloc at the school board apparently bristled at the sight of a few harmless flags in teachers’ classrooms, choosing to interpret the posters as a call for political activism rather than a low-key display of support for student identity. The stalemate will test the conservative good faith of the supporters.
Going forward with the policies would leave taxpayers at the mercy of legal fees in the event the school district is guaranteed to lose. It is wasteful and fiscally irresponsible.
And even though the flags are unpopular with social conservatives, a harsh ban seems out of place for so-called crusaders against culture cancellation. So much for this spiel from the small government.
The school board has said the flags of the United States and Oregon will be exempt from its laundry list of prohibited symbols, but the contradictory exclusion undermines the board’s intention to make district schools a political purgatory.
If local authorities had such broad powers (rest assured they don’t), courts could, at a minimum, demand consistency. No BLM Flag, no Old Glory. Government agencies cannot play favorites.
Opportunists will try to portray Grobey, the Newberg High School teacher who reluctantly withdrew her American flag, as an insufficiently patriotic radical leftist. The American Family Association has already tried. Don’t fall for this cynical ploy.
Loyalty to the Constitution – another cherished national symbol too often used as a practical political prop – means more than genuflection in front of a rectangle of fabric.
She shows school board members what remains when the censors are done with their duties: bare walls and empty flag poles.
Corey Friedman is an opinion journalist who explores solutions to political conflicts from an independent perspective. Follow him on Twitter @coreywrites. To learn more about Corey Friedman and read articles from other Creators writers and designers, visit the Creators web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Lillen at Pixabay