Confederate Flag license plate creates a problem for Delaware employee

March 26, 2012
By Nichelle Polston
Is it a case of freedom of speech or "violation of state policy?" That seems to be the debate after a Delaware Department of Transportation employee decided to drive to work in his personal vehicle that displayed a Confederate Flag license plate.

DelDOT employee Tom Drummond was suspended on March 12th for displaying the confederate license plate.  In a letter from management, the license plate was considered inappropriate and a "violation of state policy."  However, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, constitutionally the suspension is not justified.

"It is understandable that some people are offended by the display of a Confederate flag, but it does not rise to the level of harassment," said Richard Morse, ACLU-DE legal director. "It is also important to remember that the First Amendment exists to protect offensive speech, not the words, symbols or flags that people find agreeable."

To support their claim, ACLU officials point to several federal cases which address this precise issue, and say such matters have repeatedly found that flags and other symbols, including Confederate Flag license plates, are entitled to First Amendment protection.  In fact, union leaders believe, Americans do not lose their right to free speech when they become government employees.

ACLU of Delaware was originally contacted by Delaware AFSCME on behalf of Tom Drummond.  As a result, ACLU officials wrote a letter expressing concern to Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt, and are now waiting for a response.

In an emailed statement sent to WHYY Tuesday morning, DelDOT public relations director Geoff Sundstrom said, "DelDOT’s actions in this matter were prompted by a complaint from an employee who claimed harassment and our decisions were motivated solely by this concern."  He says, "As an employer our aim is to maintain a workplace that is productive and as free from acrimony as possible.  We will review the ACLU’s letter with our legal counsel and take whatever additional steps may be necessary."

© 2012 WHYY

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