HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - The Confederate flag is at the center of a controversy that's pitting a high school senior against his principal, and now the American Civil Liberties Union is getting involved.
Gregory Vied, 17, says he was suspended for flying the flag on his pickup truck, which was parked in the student lot at Steinert High School in Hamilton Township.
Vied says he knows the banner, which includes a representation of the confederate flag that flies on the back of his pickup, stirs strong emotions among those who view it as a symbol of oppression and hate.
But he says he sees it only as a mark of southern pride and a connection to relatives who hail from the south.
Vied says he wouldn't take the flag down just because someone said it offended them, but he would understand where they're coming from.
The student says he was suspended Tuesday after repeated warnings from the vice principal to take the flag down. Vied says he was told there had been complaints, but he refused to remove the flag.
"Them trying to make me take it down, is unconstitutional," Vied says.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the student's right to freedom of expression cannot be taken away, even if other students or teachers complain.
"As the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, students' rights don't end at the school house gates," says ACLU Legal Director Ed Barocas. "It also doesn't end in the school parking lot."
The organization wrote a letter to the principal, pointing to case law that says school officials would have to prove the banned speech would "materially and substantially" disrupt operations.
Several of Vied's friends have been showing their support, coming to school with confederate flags on their cars and trucks. So far, none of them have been suspended.
Vied says he's looking out for others who choose to express themselves. "I just want him not to do this to anybody else. Because you can't just trample on somebody's first amendment rights, or any of their rights."
Vied's three-day suspension was cut to one day the same day the ACLU sent its letter to the principal.
The superintendent of schools, citing student privacy, has refused to comment on the matter.