An Arizona teenager says a classmate may have targeted him in a hate crime and his school has violated his free speech rights over his display of a Confederate flag.
Jacob Green, a junior at Millennium High School in Goodyear, Arizona, said he’d been driving a pickup for six months flying the Civil War flag.
The teen said it hadn’t been a problem until earlier this month, when another student confronted him, and the two wound up in a fight that led to five-day suspensions for each of them.
The school also barred Green from displaying the flag on his truck when it's on campus.
“I've done nothing wrong,” Green said. “I've flown a flag on my truck (and) somebody fought me because of it. I didn't fight him. I was walking around like a normal person (and) he confronted me. He hit me first; I was defending myself.”
Although never the official flag of the Confederate States of America, the so-called “rebel flag” has become a symbol of southern sovereignty and is frequently displayed by white supremacists.
Its design is also incorporated into the state flags for former Confederate states Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
Green insisted he’s not a racist and researched the flag’s history and found nothing offensive.
“The flag means basically more independence, less government,” Green said. “It didn't mean racism, it didn't mean slavery -- it didn't mean any of that. It basically meant what they were fighting for was their right to be independent and not have the government control them.”
The teen claimed the school district had violated his First Amendment right to free speech by barring him from displaying the Confederate flag, but the school district argues it may limit students’ rights while they’re on campus -- particularly to preserve student safety.
Previous cases involving the same flag appear to back up the district’s claims.
“Open display, bringing it in, it has been proven to be patently offensive to certain groups, and the courts recognize that,” said Dennis Runyan, superintendent of Agua Fria Unified School District.
Runyan said the incident that led to Green’s suspension and the prohibition against his flag backed the district’s assertion.
“Obviously there was some event that took place (and) it was related to reaction to the flag, and it did create an environment where it was disruptive,” Runyan said.
Green’s parents said they’re upset with the school district’s decision and believe the other student may have committed a hate crime against their son, who said he doesn’t intends to keep his flag.
"I'm not going to take the flag off my truck for somebody telling me to do it,” Green said. “I believe in independence. That's something I want to do independently."
School officials have warned Green he could be suspended if he brings the flag back to school.
Watch this video report posted online by KSAZ-TV:
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Updated to correct details about states that incorporate the Confederate flag's design into their own flags.