Justice Stanley Pritzker wrote in the unanimous 5-0 decision that while the woman, identified only as Christie BB, was protected under the First Amendment to display the Confederate flag, the rock’s presence through June 1 would force the court to reconsider the joint custody she has with the girl’s father.
“Given that the child is of mixed race, it would seem apparent that the presence of the flag is not in the child’s best interests, as the mother must encourage and teach the child to embrace her mixed-race identity, rather than thrust her into a world that only makes sense through the tortured lens of cognitive dissonance,” wrote Pritzker, representing the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court’s Third Department.
The decision was first reported by the Albany Times-Union.
The custody fight in Upstate New York reflects the nationwide pushback against Confederate symbols, monuments and landmarks in recent years. The Atlanta Board of Education voted unanimously last month to rename a high school that bears the name of a Confederate Army general and Ku Klux Klan leader for Hank Aaron, the Hall of Fame baseball player who challenged racial barriers. A lawsuit filed this week calls for the removal of the last Confederate monument on public land in Maryland.
But there has been some refusal in conservative strongholds to let go of the Confederacy and its history. Despite voting to remove the Confederate flag symbol from its own state flag last year, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) declared April to be Confederate Heritage Month. The Mississippi governor went on to say to Fox News host Laura Ingraham last month, “There is not systemic racism in America.”
The child’s parents, who never married, were ordered to have joint custody of their daughter by a court in July 2017, according to the six-page ruling obtained by The Washington Post. When an attorney for the child recommended that the mother’s home be the primary residence for schooling purposes, the father appealed.
The girl, who is not named in the ruling, was born in 2014 and attends school in the Dryden Central School District near Ithaca, N.Y.
At a fact-finding hearing, Christie BB acknowledged that “she had a rock with a Confederate flag painted on it at her home.” The appeals court noted that the Confederate flag-decorated rock was not addressed by the child’s law guardian or the family court.
“In response to questioning, the mother testified that she has never used any racial slurs in front of the child or at all,” the decision said.
The court added that the Confederate flag was “a symbol inflaming the already strained relationship” between the girl’s parents.
The woman testified that the girl’s father “does not communicate well,” while the man told the court his daughter’s mother has frequently moved residences over the years. They shared concern for what they described as the young girl’s behavioral issues, including “kicking, spitting, hitting and swearing a lot.”
But the fact-finding hearings did not change the court’s mind: The rock puts the woman’s child custody at risk.
“Its continued presence shall constitute a change in circumstances and Family Court shall factor this into any future best interests analysis,” Pritzker said.
The mother was not represented by an attorney.
Efforts to reach Jason Leifer, the attorney for the child, were unsuccessful. Leifer told the Associated Press that he recognized the court’s concern for the Confederate flag’s presence, but wondered whether the ruling could make political views more of a target in family court.
“I just think that this thing opens a door to litigating … someone’s personal opinions on something,” Leifer said to the outlet.