Iroquois Student Returns to School after Settling Headband Issue

May 16, 2003

Source: The Becket Fund

On May 16, 2003 The Becket Fund reported that "halfway into his junior year at Salmon River Central School near Plattsburgh in upstate New York, Aroniakeha (Iroquois for 'In the Sky') Elijah donned a red headband signifying a rite of passage within his traditional Iroquois religion. Elijah, whose grandfather is a tribal chief, regarded wearing the headband as a religious duty... School officials treated it instead as a violation of their 'no-bandana' policy, and when he refused to stop wearing it, they confined him to a small windowless room in the library. For more than two months, he received no instruction, no homework, and virtually no attention or education of any sort. An accomplished athelete, he was suspended from the cross country and lacrosse teams for the entire season... On May 14, 2003, Becket Fund attorney Derek Gaubatz and New York attorney Robert Greene... met with the school board president, the superintendent and the school's principal, emphasizing the importance of Aroniakeha's First Amendment rights to freely exercise his religion. A settlement was quickly reached in which he was allowed to return to his regular classes, receive tutoring to make up for the 73 days of lost instruction, and to wear the red headband."