First Amendment

12-Year-Old Boy Removed From School Over 'Don't Tread on Me' Patch

"The Gadsden flag is a proud symbol of the American revolution," says Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.


Jaiden is a 12-year-old boy who attends the Vanguard School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the subject of a video that went viral on social media; it shows the boy and his mother confronting a school administrator who asserts that the Gadsden flag patch on his backpack violates district policy.

"The reason that we do not want the flag displayed is due to its origins with slavery and the slave trade," says the administrator.

On Monday, school officials removed Jaiden from class due to his Gadsden flag patch. His mother has fought back against this disciplinary action, explaining that the flag—a coiled snake above the phrase "Don't tread on me"—is not a pro-slavery image; it has its origins in the Revolutionary War and was intended as a symbol of resistance to British tyranny.

District officials did not respond to a request for comment, but Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack—who first publicized Jaiden's situation—shared an email that they sent to Jaiden's mother, in which the district reiterated its position that the Gadsden flag is an "unacceptable symbol" tied to "white-supremacy" and "patriot" groups.

It's true that some white supremacists have appropriated the flag. But so have classical liberals and libertarians—including Reason (check out our 404 Error page). Some lefty groups have cited Gadsden too. There's even a pro-LGBT version.

In any case, Jaiden's mother is absolutely correct that the flag's origins have nothing to do with racism or slavery. In their email, district officials approvingly cited a 2016 Washington Post article by Reason's Eugene Volokh evaluating an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) case. The case in question involved a post office employee whose Gadsden flag hat had generated racial harassment claims. But ultimately, the EEOC declined to rule that the Gadsden flag was a racist symbol.

The Supreme Court has ruled that K-12 officials have significant authority to limit students' free expression rights in order to promote classroom cohesion. But the school cannot discriminate against Jaiden's viewpoint by wrongly and arbitrarily declaring the Gadsden flag to be a hate symbol.

"There is nothing inherently disruptive about a student displaying a Gadsden flag patch on his backpack," writes Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. "Public school administrators can't ban the expression of an idea, symbol, or viewpoint just because they personally dislike it."

Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also came to Jaiden's defense, describing the flag's message as "iconic" in a post on X.

"The Gadsden flag is a proud symbol of the American revolution and [an] iconic warning to Britain or any government not to violate the liberties of Americans," wrote Polis. "It appears on popular American medallions and challenge coins through today and Ben Franklin also adopted it to symbolize the union of the 13 colonies. It's a great teaching moment for a history lesson!"

When reached for comment by Reason, Polis reaffirmed his comment and noted that he also agreed with sentiments expressed by Rep. Ted Lieu (D–Calif.).

"I oppose banning the Gadsden flag in schools for the same reason I oppose conservative schools districts that ban LGBTQ flags in schools," wrote Lieu. "Let kids be their authentic selves and give them a world of information—students can figure out what's important to them."