A 12-year-old boy in Colorado Springs was kicked out of his class for wearing a patch of the Gadsden flag, a historical symbol of the American Revolution, on his backpack. The school director claimed that the patch had “origins with slavery” and was “disruptive to the classroom environment”. The incident sparked outrage among many parents and supporters of the boy, who argued that the school violated his First Amendment rights and distorted the meaning of the flag.
The Gadsden Flag: A Symbol of Liberty or Slavery?
The Gadsden flag, which features a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase “Don’t tread on me”, was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a colonel in the Continental Army and a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, in 1775. It was used as a naval ensign by the American patriots during the Revolutionary War, and later became a popular icon of the Tea Party movement and other libertarian groups.
However, some critics have associated the flag with white supremacy, racism, and slavery, citing its use by some extremist groups and its connection to Gadsden’s involvement in the slave trade. In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considered whether wearing a hat with the Gadsden flag could constitute racial harassment in the workplace, but ultimately declined to rule that the flag was a racist symbol.
The School’s Decision: A Case of Viewpoint Discrimination?
Jaiden, the student who wore the patch, attends the Vanguard School, a charter school in Colorado Springs. He is an avid reader of the Tuttle Twins books, a series of children’s books that teach libertarian principles and history. He is also very patriotic and likes to express his patriotism with his clothing and accessories.
On Monday, August 28, 2023, Jaiden was removed from his class by the school director, who told him that he could not return unless he took off the patch. The director cited a district policy that prohibits items that feature “drugs, tobacco, alcohol or weapons”, none of which apply to the Gadsden flag. He also sent an email to Jaiden’s mother, in which he claimed that the flag had “origins with slavery” and was an “unacceptable symbol” tied to “white-supremacy” and “patriot” groups.
Jaiden’s mother challenged the director’s decision, arguing that the flag was a historical symbol of resistance to tyranny and had nothing to do with racism or slavery. She also pointed out that the school had allowed other students to wear items with political messages, such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ slogans. She accused the school of discriminating against Jaiden’s viewpoint and violating his free speech rights.
The Public Reaction: A Wave of Support for Jaiden
Jaiden’s story went viral on social media after Connor Boyack, the author of the Tuttle Twins books and the president of Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank, posted a video of Jaiden and his mother confronting the school director. Boyack also launched a petition on Change.org to demand that the school apologize to Jaiden and allow him to wear the patch. The petition has gathered over 10,000 signatures as of August 30, 2023.
Many people expressed their support for Jaiden and criticized the school for its ignorance and intolerance. Some prominent figures also weighed in on the issue, including Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who tweeted:
“The Gadsden flag is a proud symbol of the American revolution – I have one hanging in my office! I stand with Jaiden and his right to express his patriotism.”
The school district has not responded to requests for comment, but it is expected to face legal action from Jaiden’s family and pressure from civil rights groups. The case could set a precedent for how schools handle controversial symbols and students’ free expression rights.