Bryan Killian is a lot like any other 16-year-old. The North Buncombe High School sophomore enjoys music, computers and hanging out with his friends. But when he decided last week to come to school dressed like a pirate, his life took a decidedly different turn, placing him at the center of a whirlwind of controversy over freedoms of speech and religion.
At first, Killian wore both an eye patch and inflatable sword (the kind offered with a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, where Killian works). When school staff asked him to shed the swashbuckling regalia, he put the sword away, but kept the patch—and continued to wear it even after administrators told him not to.
Killian says that, unlikely as it may seem, his patch is a matter of principle. He professes devotion to “pastafarianism” (the tenets of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), which holds that pirates are deities.
But school officials didn’t see the eye patch as a true religious symbol, and they suspended Killian for refusing to lose the “disruptive” attire, causing an instant media frenzy that has ricocheted around the Internet and even the international press. (“Student Punished for Spaghetti Beliefs,” read the headline in one British newspaper.)
Buncombe County Schools officials released this statement about the matter: “As far as we are concerned, our decision to discipline this student had nothing to do with religion or religious beliefs. All of our schools adhere to dress codes. Clothes and items that are deemed to be inappropriate or disruptive to classroom instruction are prohibited. The student was warned four times to remove the attire. Punishment was administered due to the student’s decision to repeatedly disobey the administration’s directive.”
Now Killian’s back in school, where, most of the time, he keeps the patch in his pocket. But he’s still got plenty to say about the pirate hubbub. Last week, Xpress interviewed him over a burger and fries at his workplace. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
Mountain Xpress: Can you give a brief synopsis of Pastafarianism?
Killian: It is a religion created [as] a reply to them trying to teach creationism and intelligent design in Kansas schools, and [it was] basically created to say, “If you are going to teach intelligent design, then you are going to have to teach [our] way of intelligent design.” … A flying spaghetti monster created us all and we were first pirates.
MX: What prompted you to dress this way?
Killian: I figured … “Why not wear it, since they are having the North Buncombe Revolution?” [Editor’s note: The North Buncombe Revolution is a Christian revival that is going on after school hours at North Buncombe High.] … So I figured, “Why not do this during school?” as just like a quiet protest in a sense.
MX: Can you go into detail about how and why you were punished?
Killian: Well, on my first day I just wore the eye patch, and [the assistant principal] said, “You don’t need to be wearing this.” So I explained to her that this was my religion, and that this is what I believe. She gave me [in-school suspension] that day. The second day, everything went cool … and then at lunch the same thing happened as the first day, except that I walked outside and put it on. I figured that you can wear a hat outside, why not an eye patch? So I went outside, and put the eye patch on and everything and then all of a sudden, it gets quiet, and [the assistant principal] walks out and says, “You come with me.” … They start yelling at me, saying that this is the third time that they told me not to wear the eye patch. I pretty much said that this is the third time I’ve told you that this is what I believe, this is my religion. It doesn’t matter how stupid it is. … In my eyes, Christianity sounds pretty stupid, but this is what I believe, and I should be able to believe it. She said that this is not exactly what you believe, but you shouldn’t wear an eye patch because it’s causing a disruption in the classroom.
MX: How much of this is you pushing people’s buttons and trying to see what you are able to get away with?
Killian: It’s not exactly that I enjoy it; it’s that if I feel something is not right, then I’ll push it. That’s how I am.
MX: Are you enjoying the attention you are getting out of this?
Killian: Not really. … I’m Southern—I don’t like that much attention. I’m not exactly enjoying it, but it’s good that the word has gotten out that I can’t wear an eye patch for what I believe in.