Federal Agency Reviewing if Wearing ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Gadsden Flag Constitutes Racial Harassment

August 4, 2016 Updated: August 4, 2016

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is considering if wearing clothing with the “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag design could constitute racial harassment.

Two months ago, the EEOC ruled it needs to gather more evidence in a case filed more than two years ago by a black federal employee who complained his coworker wore a hat with the Gadsden flag on it, reported The Washington Post.

According to the report, the “complainant stated that he found the cap to be racially offensive to African Americans because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a ‘slave trader & owner of slaves.'”

“After a thorough review of the record, it is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context. Moreover, it is clear that the flag and its slogan have been used to express various non-racial sentiments, such as when it is used in the modern Tea Party political movement, guns rights activism, patriotic displays, and by the military,” the report stated.

The Gadsden flag was designed during the Revolutionary War in 1775 and later became popular with the Tea Party movement.

The employee who made the complaint didn’t say if his coworker made racist comments while wearing the hat. The ruling, according to the Post, said the employee complained to his bosses about his coworker’s hat and they told him to stop wearing it. He kept wearing the hat.

The EEOC has yet to issue a ruling on the case, stating in a preliminary ruling that the flag isn’t inherently racist. “In light of the ambiguity in the current meaning of this symbol, we find that Complainant’s claim must be investigated to determine the specific context in which [the coworker] displayed the symbol in the workplace,” it reads.

But, “whatever the historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts,” it added.

Gadsden, who died in 1805, submitted the flag design to the Provincial Congress in South Carolina in 1775. A year later, Commodore Esek Hopkins, who was commander of the Continental fleet, used a similar flag when his ships were out at sea for the first time.

The flag bears similarity to the 1st Navy Jack flag. It is still authorized by the U.S. Navy and is used on some ships.

The First Navy Jack (US Navy)
The First Navy Jack (US Navy)