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May 16, 2017

ACLU: Confederate flag ban could aid Northampton race tensions

Statement follows series of racially charged incidents

Banning the Confederate flag is one solution to lessening alleged racial harassment in the Saucon Valley School District in Northampton County, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

“Racial slurs and racist symbols like the Confederate battle flag are protected speech outside the school environment, but they can be banned or punished in schools when they are used in a manner or to a degree that they interfere with the ability of students of color to get as much out of school as other students get,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Racial intolerance in Northampton’s Saucon Valley School District first received local media attention last fall after a 14-year-old student allegedly posted a Snapchat depicting him racially harassing another student, including the use of racial slurs and negative racial stereotypes.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli authorized criminal charges against the student on the grounds of ethnic intimidation and cyber harassment back in January, and the incident has sparked more public complaints of racial intolerance within the school district.

Lehigh Valley Live reported last week that two parents are suing the district, claiming their sons have endured a series of racially charged harassments since moving to the district in 2013. Included in the suit are claims of students forcing their son to wear a Confederate flag.

“To ban Confederate flags in a school, you need either a history of racist incidents or harassment that is linked to the flag… It sounds like that could be true in this district,” Roper said.

School board member Ed Inghrim, during a school board hearing, said regarding the lawsuit, “If you can’t handle this day-to-day bigotry, then it’s your problem. It is not, in my mind, the responsibility of the government to basically introduce political correctness, to tell people what they can say and what they cannot say.”

Roper's statement on behalf of the ACLU also directly responded to Inghrim’s words at the hearing.

“The school board member quoted as saying that students should be able to handle ‘day-to-day bigotry’ has it exactly wrong – students are not supposed to ‘handle’ bigotry, especially on a routine basis,” she said.

“The school is supposed to take action to make sure students don’t have to confront bigotry on a regular basis. All students and parents have an interest in holding them to that. A school with these kinds of divisions is a worse school for everyone and an embarrassment to the community.”