KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - A Missouri school district that once banned books from the library after a complaint they were contrary to biblical teachings has again entered contentious territory, this time by ordering a student to remove a Confederate flag from his pickup truck.
Riley Collier, 16, said the administration at Republic High School pulled his campus driving and parking privileges for 30 days last Friday when he declined to take the flag down from the back of his pickup truck.
“I’ve always been into the Civil War and southern history and I recently lived in Mississippi for a year,” Collier said on Wednesday. “It’s southern pride and heritage.”
Collier said no one had ever confronted him about flying the flag, which he does routinely away from school.
The school had previously suspended Collier’s driving privileges for 30 days last year for flying the flag. When that suspension ended, he again flew the flag but had agreed to lay it down during school so it would not be a distraction.
Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said students should not be allowed to display the Confederate flag on school property.
“It has no place, really, anywhere except in a museum,” Ratliff said. “The Confederate flag was a symbol of bigotry and hatred and to continue that history in a school setting would be unconscionable as far as I‘m concerned.”
Collier’s father, Gene Collier, said he flies a U.S. flag at home but supported his son’s choice to fly the Confederate flag.
“He’s a full-blooded American and he wants to go into the Air Force and be in special forces,” Gene Collier said.
Riley Collier, who said his choice to fly the flag “has nothing to do with racism,” said when the 30-day suspension expires he won’t fly the flag at school but will fly it elsewhere.
Doug Bonney, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Kansas and Western Missouri, said courts have upheld a school’s right to prohibit students from displaying the Confederate flag on T-shirts or by other means because it is seen to “inspire racial hatred.”
Collier’s flying of the flag on his truck on school grounds appears to fall into a category that a school district can prohibit, and the ACLU has no plans to challenge that, Bonney said. “We’re not going to replow that ground,” he said.
Vern Minor, superintendent for Republic schools, did not return a phone call seeking comment. He told a Springfield, Missouri, television station, KY3, that he was prevented by law from commenting on matters involving students.
Republic is the same school district that drew national attention last year for removing “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Twenty Boy Summer” from the school library because of a complaint that they were contrary to Bible teachings. The books were later restored but with restrictions placed on their checkout.
Reporting By Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Johnston