Free speech: Can School Fire ‘Redneck’ over Confederate flag on His Truck?

Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2012

An Oregon school bus driver has won the first round of a free speech lawsuit claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired for refusing to remove a Confederate flag from the back of his pickup truck.

Kenneth Webber had worked as a K-12 bus driver for nearly six years in Oregon’s Jackson County School District 4. But he lost his job after he repeatedly refused a supervisor’s order to remove the three-by-five-foot flag – emblazoned with the work “Redneck” – from his truck while it was parked on school district property.

Mr. Webber filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that his former employer, his former supervisor, and the school superintendent violated his free speech right to express controversial or offensive ideas without facing censorship or punishment from the government.

On Thursday, a federal magistrate upheld the lawsuit, and said Webber’s case should proceed to a trial to determine whether his constitutional rights were violated.

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“The US Supreme Court has held that it is ‘a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment … that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable,’ ” John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said in a statement.

“Ken Webber’s case is a clear example of what happens when free speech and political correctness collide,” he said.

Webber’s case is being litigated by lawyers with the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based advocacy group.

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The supervisor ordered Webber to take down the flag or face suspension from his job. Webber refused. Next, he was ordered to remove the flag or lose his job. That’s when he was fired.

Webber disputed the accusation of racism. He said he is merely a “backyard redneck.”

“I work for what I have. I support my family. It’s just who I am. I’m a redneck. It’s a way of life,” he is quoted as saying.

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