The Rutherford Institute has filed an amended First Amendment lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Oregon on behalf of a 28-year-old K-12 bus driver who was fired for displaying a Confederate flag (with the word “redneck” emblazoned across it) 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. The amended complaint comes in response to the district court magistrate’s ruling that Webber does not have a cause of action under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution or the Oregon Constitution.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is ‘a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment…that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable,'” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Ken Webber’s case is a clear example of what happens when free speech and political correctness collide. Yet the question that needs to be asked is not whether the Confederate flag represents racism, but whether banning it leads to even greater problems, namely, the loss of freedom. The answer to that is a resounding yes.”
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 over 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 on 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 on 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. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed the original complaint in March 2011.
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.” Rutherford Institute attorneys have asked that Webber be given his job back and paid for lost wages.