SOUTH HUNTINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Two Long Island high school students have been suspended for allegedly bringing a Confederate flag to school.
Brother Gary Cregan, principal of St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, said the two seniors walked in with a Confederate flag draped around their shoulders during an after-hours sporting event at the school.
As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported, there is outrage and disgust on Long Island.
“The African-American students who immediately saw it really exercised heroic restraint and fortunately a teacher immediately confiscated the flag and took the students out of the gym,” Cregan said.
The students were initially suspended for 10 days, but Cregan decided Tuesday they won’t be allowed back, Brown reported.
Cregan wrote a letter to parents saying the use of any symbols “designed to revive past injustices or to inflame discrimination or racial intolerance, is completely unacceptable and profoundly offensive,” Newsday reported.
Cregan said he sees the flag as a symbol of hate.
“I find it just very hard to even imagine why any student in 2014 would even consider or think that a Confederate flag would be anything other than a symbol of hate,” Cregan said.
“It’s absolutely absurd, I don’t understand why you would bring up things from the past that are hateful,” student Jessica Flynn said.
“It represents slavery to us. It represents racism and prejudice to us,” parent JuJu Quinnonez added. “Believe me, I am all for freedom of speech but to have someone come in to school with that flag draped around their shoulder – I’m not really sure what the intent was.”
In response to those who said the students were exercising their right to free speech, Cregan said there are limits.
“I certainly think this particular symbol of hate falls in the category of something that should be excised from our culture,” Cregan said.
The students haven’t explained why they did it. St. Anthony’s is a private Catholic school and isn’t bound by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Still, the New York Civil Liberties Union said all people should be able to express their views freely, even the offensive ones.
“Our motto is more speech, not censorship or punishment,” NYCLU director Donna Lieberman told Brown. “Helping children understand the impact of this patently offensive expressive activity.”
Tensions are so high among students at St. Anthony’s that the principal said he has security concerns once the suspension is over. He’s made the decision that the students involved aren’t coming back at all.
The teens involved did not respond to CBS 2’s calls for comment.
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