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RELIGIOUS CLOTHING & JEWELRY IN SCHOOL

NEWS EVENTS: 2000 to now

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News items prior to the year 2000 are located elsewhere

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Recent Cases of friction over clothing and jewelry:

bullet2000-MAR-10; Indiana: School officials in Hammond, IN, ordered a Wiccan student, Irma Patton, to cover up the two pentagrams that she wore to school. One is a ring; the other a button. School officials said that pentagrams could be interpreted as a gang symbol worn by members of Chicago's Latin Kings gang. Irma's mother Wanda is also a Wiccan. She said: "They're violating our rights for what we are...Everyone has the right to choose their own religion. I don't knock anyone else's religion.'' Tom Knarr, assistant superintendent for the Hammond school district, said any symbol that might be affiliated with gang activity is not allowed on school property. Wanda Patton said the Christian cross can be linked to gang members, much like the pentagram, and that police badges are five-pointed stars. "Are we going to get them to quit wearing them?'' she asked. 1 Wanda called on AREN and WARD (two Wiccan anti-defamation groups) for support. The school reversed their decision and now allow students who follow minority religions to wear their faith symbols freely. Steve Foster, President of AREN said: "A Witch's pentacle is clearly an expression of her or his Wiccan faith, just as a cross is an expression of Christian faith. These and other religious symbols are constitutionally protected religious speech. The fact that the School and School Board recognized and reacted positively to this so quickly speaks well for the Educational System in Hammond. " [Author's note: We suspect that all of the students in Hammond schools benefited from this event. They were taught that people can negotiate their way out of conflicts, that the U.S. Constitution means what it says, that individual human rights are recognized by the Hammond school board, and that students' religious beliefs are respected.]
bullet2000-MAR-30: Indiana: A second case has surfaced in Indiana. Brandi Lehman and Shauntee Chaffin are seniors at Elwood Community High School. Both are Wiccans. Brandi had worn her religious symbol, a pentacle, without incident since 1999-AUG. They participated in a student-teacher program in which they act as a teacher's aid at Edgewood Elementary School.  Francie Metzger, the elementary school principal, allegedly told Brandi and another student-teacher that certain teachers at the school didn't like their pentacle jewelry; the latter believed that the pentacles are Satanic. Brandi was instructed to remove her necklace or to leave the school. She decided to leave. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union asked the court for a restraining order to allow the woman to wear her pentacle pending resolution of the court case. The order was granted. The lawsuit also claims that the principal of Elmwood Community High School prevented Brandi from further participation in the student-teaching program because she wore a pentacle. The school attorney, Thomas Wheeler, said: "The girls admitted using the copy machine for personal use, and leaving school early, they just cut out of school." Jacquelyn Bowie of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union admits that the women left school early, but stated that "The girls were forced to leave when they refused to remove...[their necklaces]." Lawyers for both sides failed to reach an agreement out of court. The judge ruled that the students can wear their pentagrams. An unidentified school official said: "Third graders have already asked, ‘Where are the witches?’ If (the teachers) answer, the ICLU will have us in court claiming we are bringing religious beliefs to the classroom." [Author's note: That comment indicates a lack of knowledge about constitutional matters. Teachers are quite free to discuss religious beliefs in public schools, as long as they treat all religions equally and do not promote religion over a secular lifestyle.] Kenneth Lehman said of his daughter: "She did the best thing she could have done, she sought out a lawyer and took it to the courts...The school taught her a lesson in one of her classes about individual rights, and she decided to take them up on what she was taught."
bullet2000-APR-5: Ohio: Claymont High School in Urichville OH instituted a policy in the fall of 1999 that prohibited students from wearing pentagrams. After negotiations involving a Neopagan high school student, a lawyer, the principal, the ban was lifted in 2000-APR.
bullet2000-JUL-8: Virginia According to the Roanoke Times: Richlands High School is located in southwest Virginia. Student Christopher Henkel alleges that that the school principal, George Brown, threatened him and some of his friends with suspension if they wore T-shirts bearing a pentagram and the word "Equality" to school. 2 Although the pentagram and pentacle are symbols of the Wiccan faith, Henkel states that he is not a Wiccan. With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, he will plead his right of freedom of speech at Tazewell County School Board meeting on JUL-10. Henkel also alleges that two months ago, he and Helenia Mitchell were instructed to attend a meeting in the principal's office, where they met with Brown, an assistant principal and two uniformed police officers. Henkel said that Brown accused the students of putting up posters promoting Wicca without permission. The students denied posting the literature and said that they were not Wiccans. They referred to two posters that had promoted a local Christian meeting, were also posted without permission, and which were allowed to stay up for weeks. The principal allegedly defended the Christian posters because, in his opinion, they were unlikely to cause disruption in school. 3
bullet2000-SEP-27: Brownsville, PA: Ken Scott, a senior at Brownsville Area High School and a Wiccan was suspended for one day for dress code violations. He said that he was told by school administrators that he could not wear his pentacle to school unless he hid it under his shirt. His mother said that she was told the same thing. The administrators insist that they never said that; they objected to his torn pants, spikes on his bracelets and T-shirt. In an apparently self-contradictory statement, Superintendent Gerry Grant said: "It's a dress code violation. It definitely was not religion. The T-shirt gave the appearance of the devil. That is offensive to other kids." His mother, a nurse and Southern Baptist said that although he was an honor student, he was an angry and belligerent teen-ager before he found Wicca. She said: "It's a 180-degree turn. He used to be very mean and rebellious. Whatever I would say, he would take the opposite. He's not mean anymore." 4
bullet2000-DEC-18: Lowther, MO: Nicole Sumpter, 12, is a Wiccan. School authorities confiscated her pentacle necklace in 2000-NOV. Pat Smiley, principal of Lowther North Intermediate School, said that pentacles violate the school's dress code. The code specifies that if students dress in a manner that is "considered indecent or disruptive to school in the judgment of counselors, teachers or principals, the student may be required to change to appropriate clothing or alter the disruptive appearance." It also states that: "Clothing and personal belongings shall not display profanity, obscenities, violent or derogatory messages, or have tobacco, alcohol, drug-related or gang-related significance." Nichole said: "My three words are 'freedom of religion.' That's it. I hope I can make a better understanding with parents and counselors, get my pentacle back and forget that this happened." The Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union may become involved.
bullet2001-JAN-19: Spring Hill, TX: The two sons of David and Korey Tuttle, aged 8 and 10 had been going to a school in Hallsville TX. But they ran into difficulties when they tried to switch to Spring Hill school district. The district does not allow boys to wear their hair long. Their criteria is that the hair must not touch their collar. Girls can wear their hair long if they wish. The family follows the Stregheria religion, a.k.a. Italian Witchcraft. One of the practices of that religion is that children do not cut their hair until they reach the age of 13. At that time, they are regarded as adults. Pending response from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Tittles are home-schooling their sons.
bullet2001-FEB-26: Orono, ME: Gelsey Bostick, 9, a third-grade student in an Orono public school, wore a black sweatshirt to school with the name "Jesus Christ" in white lettering. Her teacher asked her to reverse the top. A few days later, she wore a T-shirt that also said "Jesus Christ." The teacher complained again and the girl switched to another shirt. The teacher's reason was that the clothing was causing a disturbance in class. One pupil's name is Jesus; this "prompted lots of chatter among the kids." Another pupil had been offended by the sweatshirt. Gelsey's mother went to the media and eventually to a public interest law firm. She apparently did not attempt to resolve the problem herself by talking with school officials. The school maintains that these events were unrelated to religion. Principal Susan O’Roak said: "This is not an issue about Gelsey’s faith. It was about other students interpreting her shirt as being swear words...There were no religious overtones." 5 During early March, the Thomas More Center for Law & Justice successfully intervened on Gelsey's behalf. In a letter to school officials, they "identified the clearly established constitutional right of this young student to wear a shirt expressing her religious faith." 6
bullet2002-MAY-29: MI: Students ordered to not wear pro-life T-shirts: The principal at Houghton Lake High School in Michigan ordered two students to not wear pro-life shirts. They carried messages like "Abortion is Mean" and "Abortion is Homicide." The reason given is that the slogans might offend someone. Attorney Ed White from the Thomas More Law Center said: "At the same school, kids walk around with other shirts that advertise all different types of clothing companies, sports teams, Playboy Bunny symbols...One kid even has a shirt with the pictures – no nudity – with photographs of Playboy models on it. So those students are allowed to express their messages, but these pro-life students are not....This is one of many, many cases we have had during this past year where it’s always if you have a pro-life expression on your shirt, that is met with disapproval by the administration. But other messages – and it can be everything as sensitive as a Playboy model or 'Grab her booty and pinch,' which one kid has [on his shirt] – and its okay." White has written to the school, explaining about free-speech rights. 7
bullet2002-AUG-26: TX: School suspends student for wearing a pentacle: Waxahachie High School, in Waxahachie, TX, suspended Rebecca Moreno, 15, from school because she refused to remove her pentacle, which is banned by the school district's dress code. She said: "It's called a pentacle. It holds a lot for me, and I think it protects me....We just want the religious freedom that everybody else has." She and the rest of her family practices the Wiccan religion. Her mother, Laura Moreno, said: "It's a multi-dietied religion that's Earth based and worships the earth. To us, this is what a cross is to a Christian, what a Star of David is to an individual who is Jewish. It's very personal to us." Bryan Lankford, Interfaith Director for the Betwixt & Between Community Center, the Covenant of the Goddess (a Neo-Pagan tradition), and Rick Lannoye of the ACLU have become involved. Waxahachie Independent School District's Candace Ahlfinger said, "When we disrupt the educational progress of other students by wearing disruptive clothing, disruptive jewelry, disruptive hairstyles, whatever is disruptive, we are not only hurting one student, we are hurting all." 8,9

During the week of SEP-1, school officials allowed Rebecca to return to school while wearing the pentacle as long as it was hidden inside her clothing. They said that they had not banned the pentacle on religious grounds, but because Christians had associated the Wiccan symbol with animal sacrifice and Satan worship.

On 2001-SEP-11, as the U.S. and much of the free world was recalling the religiously-motivated terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, the Waxahachie public school abandoned its religiously-motivated intolerance and decided that Rebecca Moreno can wear her pentacle necklace in full view of her fellow students. School Superintendent Bobby Parker wrote a letter to the Moreno family which said, in part: "While the Wiccan faith may not be the majority religion in our community, our board policies protect all faiths." He also removed Rebecca's past suspensions and will recommend that the school board modify its dress code so that it does not restrict religious expression or free speech. However, Parker said that she will only be allowed to wear her necklace "so long as it does not cause a disruption in the educational environment." Thus, Rebecca's freedom of religious expression will depend upon her fellow students' reaction to her pentacle.
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2004-MAY-20: OK: Student can wear hijab: Nashala Heam, an 11-year old student of the Muskogee Public School District in Oklahoma, OK, was suspended twice by the school for wearing a hijab -- a head scarf worn by devout Muslim women and girls. The scarf violated a school dress code that banned hats and other head coverings. The school board maintained that the other students were "frightened" by her scarf. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in 2004-MAR on her behalf. The school district has also agreed to modify the dress code to allow for religious exceptions, and to educate teachers and other staff about the new code. R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights of the Justice Department said: "This settlement reaffirms the principle that public schools cannot require students to check their faith at the schoolhouse door...It is un-American to fear and to hate." 10

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2005-APR-26: IA: Student can wear pro-life t-shirt: Many students across the U.S. wore t-shirts in support of National Pro-life T-shirt Day. The shirts had an image of a fetus and the words "Abortion Kills Kids." Two sisters who were youth group members of Kingsway/Eagle Vision Church and students at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines IA were ordered to replace their shirts. The administration said that they were disruptive to other students. The older sister, being only a few weeks away from graduation, agreed. However her sister, a freshman, refused to cover or replace her shirt. She cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that confirmed students' rights of free expression. The school administrators threatened her with suspension. Ironically, it was three and a half decades ago when a similar incident occurred in Des Moines, over black arm bands worn to protest the Vietnam War. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that students did not lose their rights of free expression when they passed through the school house doors. The court ruled that the school "...must be able to show that it's action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint." The Iowa Liberty and Justice Center, an arm of the Iowa Family Policy Center is negotiating with the school to resolve the conflict.11
 

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References:

  1. "'Pagan' student claims school discrimination," Evansville Courier & Press, 2000-MAR-14, at: http://www.courierpress.com/cgi-bin/view.cgi?200003/ 
  2. Various news reports from the Roswell Daily Record at: http://www.roswell-record.com/ 
  3. Cody Lowe, "Richlands High School Principal George Brown charged ACLU with using 'Gestapo tactics.' Students fight School Board over [Wiccan] religious expression ban," Roanoke Times, Roanoke VA.
  4. Christina Rouvalis, "Witches and wardrobes: Boy says he was suspended from school for wearing magical symbol," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, at: http://www.post-gazette.com/magazine/ 
  5. "Mother protest school's 'Jesus' shirt ruling," Charismanews.com, at Maranatha Christian Journal:  http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010226e.shtml
  6. "3rd-grader now can wear 'Jesus Christ' sweatshirt," CNSNews.com,at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010306d.shtml
  7. Rusty Pugh, "Michigan School Stifles Free Speech Rights of Pro-Life Students," Agape Press Christian News Service, at: http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/5/
  8. "District Suspends Student For Wearing Symbol Of Faith: Mother Says Pentacle Doesn't Symbolize Devil Worship," NBC5i.com, Fort Worth, TX, at: http://www.nbc5i.com/news/1639193/detail.html
  9. Letters of criticism or support in the Waxahachie, TX, case can be sent to: Superintendent Dr. Bobby Parker Jr. at Bparker@wisd.org, Public Relations spokesperson Candice Ahlfinger at: Cahlfinger@wisd.org, and/or Jerry McLemore, Director of Safety and Security, at:  JmcLemore@hachie.wisd.org. Laura Moreno can be reached via her mother at:
    witchie35@excite.com
  10. "Muslim girl can wear head scarf to school," Omaha World-Herald, 2004-MAY-20, at: http://www.omaha.com
  11. "Iowa Liberty and Justice Center Defends Pro-Life Students," News release, Iowa Family Policy Center, 2005-APR-29.

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Copyright © 2000 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written 1999-AUG-20

Last updated 2005-APR-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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