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Trampling on a Symbol of Liberty

By James Bovard


Last August 12-year-old Jaiden Rodriguez was kicked out of a public-school classroom in Colorado Springs after school officials decreed that the Gadsden flag patch on his backpack was “disruptive to the classroom environment.” Those Colorado officials didn’t know the meaning of “disruptive.”

Thanks to savvy, thoughtful retorts by Jaiden’s mother in a video showdown at the school, the incident spurred a fierce backlash around America. Less than a week later, the school district raised the white flag on its assault on the Gadsden flag.

The flag’s real history

That flag, with its yellow background and coiled rattlesnake, helped rally Americans to vanquish the British Army and Navy almost 250 years ago. As the Encyclopedia Brittanica noted, “The rattlesnake symbol originated in the 1754 political cartoon “Join, or Die” published in Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. The cartoon, which depicted the colonies divided as segments of a cut-up snake, exhorted the colonists to unite in the face of the French and Indian War (1754–63). The symbol was later used to represent unity during the Revolutionary War.” The flag became one of the most iconic symbols of the American Revolution, venerated far and wide until recent years.

Where did the Gadsden flag go wrong? Tea Party activists waved the “Don’t Tread on Me” banner during anti-Obama protests. According to the liberal media, regardless of Obama’s oppressive, intrusive policies, any opposition to his presidency was automatically racist. Thus, the Gadsden flag was irrevocably tainted by association.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission added fuel to this fire:

On January 8, 2014, a U.S. Postal Service maintenance mechanic in Denver, Colorado filed a complaint of discrimination based on race (African American) and reprisal for prior EEO activity when: (1) beginning in the fall of 2013, a coworker repeatedly wore a cap to work with an insignia of a flag with a rattlesnake ready to strike and slogan “Don’t Tread on Me,” (2) the coworker continued to wear the cap after management had assured Complainant that they would tell the coworker not to, and (3) on September 2, 2013, a coworker photographed him on the work room floor without Complainant’s consent. According to the federal sector process, that complaint was filed with the employing agency — the U.S. Postal Service.

On January 29, 2014, the U.S. Postal Service dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cognizable claim of discrimination. On June 20, 2014, the EEOC Office of Federal Operations reversed the agency’s dismissal, determining that Complainant had raised a cognizable claim of harassment, and ordered the agency to investigate the claim…. The U.S. Postal Service argued that the previous decision clearly erred because the Gadsden Flag and its slogan do not have any racial connotations.

But the EEOC insisted that the flag could justify a harassment complaint. The EEOC decreed that

while the Gadsden Flag originated in a non-racial context, it has since been “interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts,”… Importantly, the Commission did not find that the Gadsden Flag in fact is a racist symbol. Rather, the Commission found only that the complaint met the legal standard to state a claim under Title VII, and therefore should have been investigated by the agency rather than dismissed.

The EEOC has a long history of knuckle-headed decrees, including its 2012 ruling that made it a federal crime not to hire ex-convicts. (The chief of the EEOC repeatedly publicly denounced my articles in the 1990s, but I don’t hold a grudge.)

The EEOC’s prattle was “close enough for government work” for commentators to howl that the Gadsden flag had been condemned by federal civil-rights watchdogs.

The flag ain’t woke 

The Gadsden flag was further vilified by the New York Times–spurred 1619 campaign to paint the American Revolution as a vast conspiracy to perpetuate slavery. This notion is popular with journalists who have never read a book that was published before 2010. Denouncing the Founders as racists absolves wokesters from having to learn anything about the “slavery by Parliament” that Britain sought to impose — the mass confiscation of firearms and other private property, the sweeping censorship, the total destruction of privacy, and the suppression of jury trials.

The Colorado Springs school district declared that the flag was an “unacceptable symbol” linked to “white-supremacy.” It further claimed that the Gadsden flag had its “origins with slavery” because it was designed in 1775 by a South Carolinian who owned slaves. By the same standard, the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights could all be condemned since Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason were slaveowners. Do the wokesters want to condemn and expunge all of American history prior to the creation of the LGBT rainbow flag?

The Colorado hubbub occurred because many school officials and students are even more ignorant of American history than freshmen members of Congress. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor groused in 2014 that fewer than 20 percent of high-school seniors “can say what the Declaration of Independence is, and it’s right there in the title.” Americans’ ignorance of history helps explain their docility nowadays…


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