We were all pretty shocked by this story out of California today:
A Stanislaus County school is forcing a student to take an American flag off of his bike.
Thirteen-year-old Cody Alicea put the flag there as a show of support for the veterans in his family.
But officials at Denair Middle School told him he couldn’t fly it. He said he was told some students had complained.
But the superintendent said he’s trying to avoid tension on campus.
"(The) First Amendment is important," Superintendent Edward Parraz said. "We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsiblity."
Parraz said the campus has recently experienced some racial tension. He said some students got out of hand on Cinco de Mayo.
"Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they’ll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don’t really want," Parraz said. "We want them to appreciate the cultures."
School officials later explained that they felt Cody’s safety was at risk from children who were bullying him, and that they were addressing the bullies and have now allowed Cody to continue displaying the flag.
But whatever the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind the decision to make Cody put away the flag, the superintendant’s remarks are still startling. As we saw repeatedly in the vapid debate over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” it’s a skewed view of the First Amendment that sees displaying one’s values or culture as some sort of un-American provocation. There is, as the superintendent said, “a responsibility” that comes with freedom of speech. But that responsibility does not include suppressing your patriotism, or any other deeply held beliefs, at the risk of offending others.
The right of a kid to display an American flag on Veterans Day should be the clearest example of the freedoms that should never be taken away.