Federal lawsuit over Confederate Flag ban being heard in East Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- School systems across the nation will be watching as a federal jury in Knoxville decides if a ban on the confederate flag in Anderson County is acceptable, or if school officials crossed the line of free speech.

After 13 out-of-school suspensions for wearing clothing that had the confederate flag on it, Tommy DeFoe is continuing his fight over the right to wear the clothing, and this time a federal jury could make history with their decision.

Tommy DeFoe is out of school, but now he’s in court wearing a belt buckle with a Confederate flag like the one that got him suspended from a school in Anderson County.

A distant relative of a Confederate veteran, DeFoe is suing the school system, claiming it's his heritage and right to free speech while the school system says their ban is justified because it might offend someone.

After a jury was selected, attorneys put forth their opening statements. For the plaintiffs, attorney Van Irion told the jury "DeFoe's father taught him his history, but the school board decided it (the Confederate flag) is so bad it had to be banned from every school.”

Then school board attorney Arthur Knight addressed the jury telling them the "school is overwhelmingly white. If they have one black student, they have a duty to keep him safe."

The plaintiffs called four witnesses, including three school officials and a former student.

School board chairman Dr. John Burrell could not point to any racial incidents at the school that related to the flag, but said Oreo Cookies were once thrown at a basketball student of mixed race.

Irion asked if Oreo Cookies were banned from the school.

Burrell told the court that they weren’t.

Former student Ryan Miller told jurors he wore clothing with the Confederate Flag from Dixie Outfitters to school, but never had anyone complain.

Former principal Sidney Spiva referred to trying to look out for inappropriate clothing as "a constant battle."

This case could also be a first.

Southern Legal Resource Center attorney Kirk Lyons says many confederate flag cases are heard before judges and appellate courts but this may be the first, certainly in a generation, of one actually going to a jury.

Plaintiffs will resume their case Tuesday morning.


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  • by Roger Location: Clarksville, TN on Jul 4, 2009 at 11:35 PM
    I feel our country was born by revolution, and the beliefs they had, and the confederate soldiers were no less in believing in their cause. ALL American soldiers should be honored no matter what side they fought on. The flag represents a period in history of our country and the flags or banners Americans fought under are sacred and our FOREVER a part of our history that CANNOT be ignored or wiped clean. I feel those that do so, have the freedoms they died for, just as flag burners. The basic rights we have are from all soldiers and sacrifices given by them regardless of sides. So, let history stand and let the people have freedom of choice, speech without judgment. We all find something that offends us in our daily lives, its part of life. Let the flag issue go, and to those that find it offensive, just remember it happened way before your time and its part of history now, regardless of what hate group tarnishes the flags of dead soldiers.
  • by Bruce Location: Western Canada on Jun 15, 2009 at 10:43 PM
    I am a Canadian who is very much interested in Confederate history and I see nothing wrong with displaying the flag on one's clothing etc. I like to wear it in the form of a belt buckle just like Tommy Defoe does. However, I sure hope that young man keeps fighting his case and wins. I sure would if I was in his shoes. The Confederate flag to many, serves as a good symbolic measure indicating that one is tough, independent and can not be easy pushed around. And Tommy Defoe is living up to that. So all the best to him because he has my support 100%.
  • by IAN Location: WESTERN CANADA on May 4, 2009 at 03:54 PM
    I am a Canadian and much fascinated by Confederate history. I am constantly researching the civil war and enjoy my hobby. Here in Canada there is also an uproar over the flag. I wear a Confederate flag belt buckle and display a large Confederate flag in my apartment which can be seen on the street. I have had many strange looks. However, as yet, no one has challenged me, but I do get rather odd looks. For the record, I notice that some belt buckle stores here are selling the Confederate flag belt buckle and they are becoming more in demand. I buy my buckles from Southern suppliers as they are better made and the Southern Cross of Honor is my favorite to wear. It is a classic. Keep on flying the flag folks, many of us support you.
  • by JR Location: Cleveland,Tenn on Jan 23, 2009 at 10:18 AM
    How many of these people against the confederate flag are people from the north living and making their living in and on the South? they have culture classes when they go abroad as not to offend,why are our customs not important?
  • by mike Location: kansas on Nov 14, 2008 at 12:36 AM
    my flags will fly intell the day i die the outlaw the flag you will have to kill me before they are lowerd
  • by Amelia Location: NC on Oct 23, 2008 at 09:12 PM
    I feel the same as the two comments below! Kudos to the both of yall. :) I am doing my research paper on this whole controversy, and you both gave great ideas, so I thank both of yall! :) Thanks!
  • by Katy Ishee Location: Normandy TN on Oct 12, 2008 at 12:27 PM
    I am ashamed of any govenrment that bans the Confederate flag..Bobama saidhe wouodn't wear the American pin (THAT pin) because some find it reminds them of oppression. Are we going to bury our American flag too and fly a new flag for Obama. If I was running around with the KKK onfront of my shirt lynching a black man,,,that's offensive. Seems to me a lot of people have forgotten, the Confederate flag is NOT the Klan and if they think it's offensive, they need a history lessons. My ancestors fought for the South and I'll be damned if I'm going to quit flying my Confederte flag because a minority find it offensive. The ones that do need a history lesson as they know nothing about it and how many people of different races that it does represent. When AMerica buries its hitory cuz of a few, that's Communism. Let the flag fly and learn your history. A sheet is the Klan's flag, not the Confederate Flag! Confederate flag will be flown 12th Annual Highway 41 Toy COnvooy Nov 2 Manchester,TN
  • by Becky Location: Texas on Sep 17, 2008 at 10:33 AM
    Our high school here is known as the Rebels. The Rebel flag is part of that. It is only allowed to be used at our home stadium, but you will still people with on at away games. So far so good. Every now and then there has been a minor problem but for the most part if you don't like it there is always the other high school. It is part of the TN heritage so who has the right to take that away. We don't like many things though out our life time but we don't except everyone to change just because a few don't like it. Here's a thought - MOVE. People moved to the area knowing about it. If they didn't like it they shouldn't have moved there. Just like why should I have to learn spanish just to keep a job. If I moved to Mexico they wouldn't change the language to english just accomidated me. So you come here leagally or illegally you should adapt to the language here. In other words learn english.
  • by Charles Location: Blacksburg, VA on Sep 16, 2008 at 12:14 PM
    If "offending someone" justifies a court case, or if one person offeds another there should be no court or "legal" action warrented to prevent such personal; feelings. Accept sometning or don't accept it...but don't take up time in court over such personal items. Be an American and work it out yourself!
  • by farrell dutton Location: alabama on Sep 15, 2008 at 08:50 AM
    black men,white men,indians and hispanic, died in defence of dixie. i willnot disrespect any of their memory by claiming it is a white man's flag. it belongs to all southron people,all races.

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