A small-town Missouri teenager says his "Rebel Pride" is keeping him out of school and he's looking at legal options to let him wear the Confederate battle flag in class.
Farmington High School student Bryce Archambo, 14, says he was suspended from school for one day last month after he insisted on wearing a hat and T-shirt emblazoned with the flag.
Archambo refuses to return to school unless he can wear the symbol, which he said school administrators called racist. Archambo hired First Amendment lawyer Robert Herman in St. Louis to represent him.
While not commonly displayed, the Confederate battle flag isn't exactly a rare symbol in and around Farmington, a town of roughly 14,000 about 70 miles south of St. Louis. The flag can be seen draped near homes on rural highways or sported on hats like Archambo's, which reads: "1861 Rebel Pride."
Archambo said he wore the hat during Spirit Week at school. A gym coach told him to remove it to avoid offending classmates. He refused, was suspended and said he would sue to return to school wearing rebel colors.
The showdown between Archambo and school administrators appears to reflect similar disputes over the flag in other states. Archambo said his teachers called the flag racist because the South endorsed slave-holding. He said it represents his Southern heritage and doesn't symbolize a fight to protect slave ownership.
"The main thing about the Civil War was the big intrusive government. They were raising taxes in the South to protect the Northern industries," Archambo said.
Farmington High School Superintendent W.L. Sanders said he couldn't comment on the case because of student privacy laws.
"The school reserves the right for campus administrators to ban anything which is disruptive to the school climate," Sanders said.
Herman says he's confident Archambo has the right to wear any symbol he chooses to school as long as it's not worn in a "disruptive" manner.
"He wore it on his ball cap. That's not disruptive," Herman said.
"School should be a place for questioning beliefs and ideas and standing up for what you believe in, not being beaten down by the spirit of political correctness," Herman said.
Over 25 years in practice, Herman has represented anti-war groups, Ku Klux Klan members and white supremacist Matt Hale. As an observant Jew, Herman said he hasn't always been on the friendliest of terms with his clients.
Herman said he was drawing up a lawsuit on Archambo's behalf.
Sanders said he wasn't worried.
"I am comfortable with our legal position and the advice that we got from a school attorney from the first time this case came to my knowledge," Sanders said.
Archambo said he bought five Confederate battle flag T-shirts when he shopped for school clothes earlier this year. He said he was drawn to the symbol even before he started learning about the Civil War.
"It's a stage that a lot of teenagers go through. Some of them go through the Goth stage," he said, referring to dark eyeliner and black clothes that some students consider rebellious.
"I just took a liking to the symbol."