Confederate flag flap raises questions [Letter]

September 15, 2014

Speech is designed to convey a message which carries with it an intended tone, purpose and meaning by the speaker. The recent incident in which a Confederate flag was raised at a high school football game in Howard County has quickly turned into a First Amendment argument, followed quickly by volleys of opposing opinions and arguments about the symbolism of this particular flag ("Glenelg High student disciplined for displaying Confederate flag at football game," Sept. 10).

There is a missing element in all this which is to understand the message of this action — what was intended and what was clearly not anticipated by the student. Additionally, there were choices that were made yet apparently no appreciation for the possibility of any consequences. Clearly, the student was conveying a message in unfurling this flag — a simple piece of cloth with a design that absolutely will elicit very strong reactions, both positive and negative. But what was he trying to say to his fellow schoolmates, teachers, athletes, parents, children and other bystanders during an athletic event in a semi-rural and very suburban county in what is argued by many, but not all, as a northern state? What was the point? Nobody has addressed this important question. Rather, citizens have sided for or against this action based on personal beliefs and opinions of a symbol and the right for self-expression. There is little mention of the context in which this occurred.

If this flag was unfurled at a Southern Pride event or a Confederate Civil War event or even a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, it would have gone unnoticed. What might have been the reaction if someone raised a Black Panthers Party flag at one of those venues (and I would have the legal right to do that but there would certainly be some very strong reactions and consequences)? In this context, it seemed out of place. What did this football game have to do with either expressing Southern pride or an attempt at expressing racial hatred? It appears provocative and there was a disregard that some (but not all) might feel hurt or offended.

The student could have raised a flag with his school's mascot or a Howard County flag or an American flag or a Maryland flag or even a Ravens flag — each with uncontroversial symbolism (unless you're a Redskins' fan) — but all reasonable within the context of the staged event. A Confederate flag baffles me. All this being said, the expression of speech was found to be offensive at the least, and possibly inappropriate for the context so the immediate consequence was its removal and the student's suspension. The longer-term consequence is that the student has developed an unintended reputation for him or herself, the school and the community. We live in the "Choose Civility" neck of the woods. I beg to ask whether this was civil at all or whether there was even one moment in which considering civility ever occurred. The expression of our freedoms need to be done with forethought, especially anticipating the potential response. This is what it means to live as an adult in a civil society. It is not sufficient to state that I will express myself in any manner I please and everyone must openly accept my expression speech because it is protected by a law.

For instance, we should all be familiar with the Westboro Church. This group has some very strong feelings that I believe many people outside this group might agree with and they would have the legal right to publicly express these feelings. However, of all the available venues available, they chose to express their message during moments that were meant to be somber and respectful. And there were strong reactions by the opposing majority because the message and the context of expressing that message seemed inappropriate and unnecessarily provocative — their message was causing additional emotional pain and suffering to those who had lost loved ones. That seems uncivil and irresponsible. When all is said and done, I think that our teens and all people need to be aware and think about how their actions will affect others and what the possible consequences are. A legal right doesn't mean that you have license to be thoughtless or irresponsible. So it is possible to be right yet very wrong. Welcome to the real world.

Michael Anthony

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