School bus company seeks dismissal of Confederate flag case

But lawyer for ex-Phoenix-Talent driver counters that the banner altered to say 'Redneck' is constitutionally protected free speech

GRANTS PASS — A school bus company being sued by a driver fired for refusing to take a Confederate battle flag emblazoned with the word "Redneck" off his pickup truck has asked for the case to be dismissed, arguing the flag does not amount to free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

First Student, Inc., filed the motion for summary judgment Monday in U.S. District Court in Medford.

The company said Ken Webber, who drove a bus carrying students in the Phoenix-Talent School District, considered the flag an expression of his identity and lifestyle, not his feelings on politics, race or racism.

"It is a physical manifestation of the lifestyle with which he identifies — living in the backwoods, preferring country life to city life, putting family first, hunting, fishing and driving trucks," the brief said. "It does not signify his political ideology. It does not signify his position on racial issues. It does not even signify an identity that he intends to share with others. It is simply a possession that is important to him.

"As such, his flag is not constitutionally protected speech because its message is not a matter of public concern."

Webber's lawyer, Tom Boardman, said he would be filing a response arguing that even as an expression of lifestyle, the flag amounts to protected speech.

"Just because you don't articulate it fairly well doesn't mean you are not thinking something more intellectual," Boardman said.

Webber filed the lawsuit to get his job back. Married with four children, he has not gotten another job and is focusing on college classes in juvenile counseling, Boardman said.

No trial date has been set.

First Student also argued that as a private entity, it is not subject to First Amendment protections that might apply to the school district.

The buses are owned and operated by First Student, but parked on property owned by the school district.

School Superintendent Ben Bergreen saw the flag on a visit to the bus lot and demanded it be removed from school property, citing a policy prohibiting symbols that could be offensive to minorities. Webber was fired for insubordination after refusing to take down the flag, or part his truck off school property.

Boardman said the district has no race problems between blacks and whites, which might be related to the Civil War, and no one paid any attention to the policy.

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.