High School Students Defend Wearing Confederate Flag Clothing to School: 'It's Not Hate'

A Confederate flag sits at the base of Confederate Mound in Chicago, Illinois, on August 23, 2017. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Students in Arkansas faced backlash for wearing Confederate flag clothing to school, according to KFSM.

"A couple" of students showed up at Fayetteville High School last week with Confederate flags painted on their skin, and wearing Confederate flag attire.

Fort Smith, Arkansas–based KFSM said the students were sent home.

"To us, it's not hate. Everyone is saying it's hate. It's our history. We live in a southern state, and if we were doing it for hate we wouldn't be wearing it," freshman Jagger Starnes, who was wearing Confederate clothing, told the local the TV station. "I'm honestly not racist. I have friends that are black. I have friends that are Mexican, you know, I'm not racist by any means."

Keith Starnes, Jagger's father, espoused his son's decision. "I support him in any way he's doing it, because that's what he's standing up for," he said. "If he was doing it for hate, then it would be different, but he's not. So yeah, I'm going to support my son."

A Confederate flag sits at the base of Confederate Mound in Chicago on August 23, 2017. Scott Olson/Getty Images

"The Confederate flag is a symbol and it has a long history, 150 years, tied to being the ideas of racism, hatred and bigotry, and because of that it's not allowed in our school setting," Jay Dostal, the school's principal, said.

"We're not trying to trample on their First Amendment right. We're just trying to have a safe and orderly school environment," he told KARK.

Similar incidents in recent years have drawn national scrutiny.

School personnel and students from Wisconsin's Tomah High School called for the prohibition of Confederate flag items after a student wore attire featuring the Dixie flag, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.

In May, a 17-year-old high school student in Montana was suspended for wearing a Confederate flag sweatshirt after he had been asked by school officials to stop doing so.

"The school is in the wrong for saying they can dictate me wearing this sweatshirt," said Mitchell Ballas, from Missoula, according to the Associated Press. "They're saying it's offending kids and it's derogatory and all that, but it's not. It's my First Amendment right."

The incidents have took place amid a broader discussion about the history of the Civil War and debates over national monuments honoring Confederate soldiers.

Earlier this month, an Alabama judge overturned state legislation that had prevented a city from removing a Confederate tribute. Officials in the predominantly black city of Birmingham had attempted to take out a 52-foot tall Confederate monument but were sued by the state, which said 2017 legislation prevented the removal.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo overturned the legislation, saying the city could choose what it wanted to express.

Update: A Fayetteville Public Schools representative told Newsweek after publication that no students had been suspended in the incident. Newsweek had previously noted conflicting reports about the corrective action taken by the school.