Diverse Coalition Supports American Indian Kindergartner’s Right to Freely Exercise His Religion

July 13, 2009

Author: Staff Writer

Source: WebWire


The ACLU’s fight to stop a Texas school district from punishing a five-year old student for wearing his long hair in braids as an expression of his American Indian heritage and beliefs has drawn support from a diverse group of American Indian tribes and scholars, religious freedom organizations and representatives of a variety of faith traditions.

Eleven groups, including the Lipan Apache and Nansemond Indian tribes, the Anti-Defamation League, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Interfaith Alliance recently participated in filing "friend of the court" briefs to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in support of a lower court’s ruling that Needville Independent School District (NISD) violated the Constitution and state law when it punished the student for expressing his and his family’s religious beliefs.

In January, U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison granted a request by the ACLU of Texas and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the boy, known in court proceedings as A.A., to be allowed at school to wear his hair in two long braids in observance of his American Indian religious heritage. NISD, who had initially placed the student in in-school suspension for noncompliance with its dress code, appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

"The amicus briefs provide the opportunity for groups with a stake in the outcome of this litigation to make their voices heard" said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. Fleming Terrell, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said "while we are disappointed that NISD is still trying to restrict this boy’s religious freedom for the sake of conformity, we and our clients are grateful for the support"