Judge rules against Farmington student suspended for wearing rebel flag

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- An eastern Missouri school district was within its rights to suspend a student who refused to remove clothing bearing the Confederate battle flag, a federal judge ruled.

"We see this as a victory for all communities and schools in the state of Missouri," Farmington Superintendent W.L. Sanders said after Monday's ruling. "It leaves the administering of schools in the hands of teachers, administrators and school boards."

Bryce Archambo, then 14, was suspended from Farmington High School on Sept. 28.

One day earlier, a faculty member took Archambo's baseball cap, bearing a depiction of the battle flag and the words "C.S.A. Rebel Pride, 1861."

A district official told Archambo's father his son was not allowed to wear anything with a Confederate flag, because of its association with racism.

But the following day, Archambo wore a T-shirt and belt buckle bearing the flag and the words "Dixie Classics."

He was suspended, and his mother then pulled him from school. The family, which has since been home-schooling the teenager, sued in November.

"We're disappointed, but there seems to be a climate of scaling back the hard-won civil rights over the past 30 to 40 years," said St. Louis attorney Robert Herman, who has represented the Ku Klux Klan and other groups on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Setbacks are to be expected in this area of the law."

Archambo argued that he wore the battle flag clothing not as a racial statement, but as a symbol of pride in his Southern heritage.

His intentions didn't matter, U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton wrote in Monday's ruling.

"The plaintiff's interpretation of the Confederate flag's meaning is largely irrelevant," Hamilton wrote, "because courts recognize that it is racially divisive in nature."

Herman argued that under state law, school districts cannot order students to remove items "worn in a manner that does not promote disruptive behavior."

Hamilton ruled, however, that districts "must have the flexibility to control the tenor and contours of students' speech within school walls or on school property, even if such speech does not result in a reasonable fear of immediate disruption."

An appeal is likely, Herman said.

"The fat guys are in Washington," he said, "and they haven't sung yet."


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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