GRANTS PASS, Ore.—The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a 28-year-old K-12 bus driver who was fired for displaying a Confederate flag on his personal vehicle. Kenneth Webber was fired on March 8, 2011, five days after being suspended for refusing to comply with an order that the flag be removed from his truck while it was parked in the employee parking lot. Webber has insisted that his display of the Confederate flag does not show him to be a racist but 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.” Institute attorneys have charged Webber’s supervisor at First Student Bus Transportation Services, a company providing services to the Phoenix-Talent School District # 4, with violating his First Amendment right to free expression, as well as his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.
“This is a clear case of political correctness run amok,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Clearly, under the First Amendment, employment cannot be conditioned on forfeiting the right to the freedom of expression.”
Kenneth Webber, who has been employed by First Student Bus Transportation Services, a company providing services to the Phoenix-Talent School District # 4, for four years, began flying the Confederate flag in the bed of his pickup truck about a year ago. The 3-by-5-foot Confederate flag, which has the word “Redneck” emblazoned across it, was a birthday gift from Webber’s father in 2009. Webber drives his truck to work and parks it in the employee lot, which is leased from the school district, before reporting for his duties driving the K-12 bus for the Phoenix-Talent School District.
On March 2, 2011, Webber was called into his supervisor’s office and ordered to remove the flag from his pickup or be suspended from his job. The demand to remove the flag was allegedly made after the school district superintendent visited First Student’s facility and saw the flag in Webber’s truck. The superintendent reportedly requested that Webber remove the flag because “some people find that symbol offensive,” justifying the request by pointing to the fact that the school district is “about 37 percent minority students,” and “we have a policy…about displaying symbols on school property that were racist, or had a potential to be seen as racist.”
Insisting on his right to free expression in his personal vehicle, Webber refused the demand, was suspended and was sent home for the day. The following day, Webber reported to work and was called to meet with two managers, who again demanded that he remove the flag or be suspended, this time for three days. Again, Webber refused and was suspended. On March 8, Webber was called into his manager’s office and was terminated after he again refused to remove the flag from his pickup. “My flag will fly,” said Webber. “No one here is gonna tell me what I can and can’t believe in.” Rutherford Institute attorneys have demanded that First Student restore Webber’s job, pointing to a 2002 victory in which the City of Topeka, Kansas, was found to have violated the First Amendment rights of a city employee by forbidding him from parking his vehicle with Confederate flag vanity license plates in the City’s employee parking lot.
Nisha N. Mohammed is the press contact for the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization which provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.