There's no love lost between me and the confederate flag. I'm a New York Yankee, married to a Southern man, and the words "heritage not hate" hold no sway in my house. So when I heard an elementary school bus driver in Oregon was hanging the battle flag of the confederacy from his personal truck, I shuddered. And when I heard it had the word "redneck" scrawled across the center, I rolled my eyes.
Then I read that Ken Webber got fired for it. And I got angry. Because I don't have to be a fan of the confederate flag to know one hanging off the back of his personal vehicle has nothing to do with a guy's ability to drive a bunch of kindergartners to school and back. Ken Webber just got fired because his beliefs didn't mesh with theirs.
My history with the flag makes it hard to say. I'm aware of the racist connotations. The issues it conjures up for African Americans. And my Southern husband would never fly one from our house -- even though his relatives did fight in the Civil War, on the confederate side. Technically, I guess, he could claim the "heritage" angle on the whole debacle. But it's not happening. Not at my house. Not as long as the "other" connotations of that flag exist. All it takes is picking up a history book to get it.
And yet, I have to defend Ken Webber or I would be a hypocrite.
His choice means he's a redneck. And a bit of an idiot. And that far away from the Mason/Dixon line, I'm willing to bet the "rebel flag" has absolutely nothing to do with heritage (his Facebook indicates he lives in Medford, Oregon but hails from Riverside, California, not a southern state).
But Ken Webber's stupid flag has nothing to do with how he treats children or adheres to the rules of the highway -- everything that matters in choosing a bus driver. What it does have to do with is his rights to free speech -- which protect him from unjust firing. Because I don't have to like what Ken Webber thinks of the confederacy. I just have to accept that it's his right to think it. As he posted on his public Facebook page: "I am now unemployed for standing up for my rights and what I believe."
Like the teacher who was fired for her "Have You Drugged Your Kid Today" bumper sticker, Webber had poor taste in the way he decorated his vehicle. But it was his personal vehicle, the one he used to drive to and from work (and ostensibly to drive his four kids around). There's no indication he was a bad driver or brought his personal business on the bus.
Do you think he deserves his job back? Sign the petition to help make First Student change its mind.
Image via VectorPortal/Flickr