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Posted at 1:39 PM ET, 12/ 3/2009

The case of a boy punished for wearing braids in school as a religious expression

By Valerie Strauss

Should a 5-year-old American Indian boy be allowed to wear his hair in long braids in school as an expression of his heritage and religious beliefs?

The Needville, Texas, Independent School District said the boy had violated the district’s dress code and placed him in in-school suspension. A U.S. District Court judge ruled early this year that the boy be allowed to wear his hair as an expression of his religious heritage. Some, though not all, Indian nations see long hair as an expression of their prayers and beliefs.

The school district appealed the ruling, and Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments in the case in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, a legislator plans to introduce a bill to repeat 1923 state law banning teachers from wearing religious garb. According to the Associated Press , the legislature passed a law last year allowing all workers except teachers to wear religious dress at work in most cases. The AP said Oregon is one of three states with such a ban.

The law was last tested in court when the Eugene School District won a 1986 Oregon Supreme Court case that upheld its firing of a Sikh teacher for wearing a turban.
Tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing in favor of the boy’s right to express his heritage in this way.

Do you agree with the ACLU? Should teachers be allowed to wear religious dress?

By Valerie Strauss  | December 3, 2009; 1:39 PM ET
Tags:  religious expression in school  
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This is not a simple question. I find it really hard to answer. I think we should ask ourselves a question, "Are schools made for religious teachings?" I think the answer for the above question should surround this question.

Posted by: arpit2004 | December 3, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Isn't the more important question for Needville, TX what having long hair has to do with learning? Whether his hair is an expression of religious freedom or personal preference, I have yet to see a study that says girls with long hair are capable of learning, while boys with long hair are not. A court battle over an illogical and arbitrary dress code detracts from the critical business of education for all students.

Posted by: molly612 | December 3, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with molly612. The PC BS is suffocating our freedoms!!! Suspending a 5 year boy because in his culture it is acceptable for boys/men to wear braids!?! My blood is boiling at this absurdity I don't know where to start. I guess any student in the school wearing a cross pendant necklace had better be suspended too...or are they the select exception!?! Home of the free!?! Absolutely not!

Posted by: valerie11 | December 3, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm in the Catholic school I work at and my child attends, we have several Native American students and one male student who is part Hawaiian and part Maori. One of the Native American kids and the Maori child wear long hair. It is an exception to our quite strict school dress policy, however, I have noted that these boys both are well groomed. This exception is allowed because hair length is part of their culture. No one questions it. Grooming is really what is our principal is concerned with.
Take a look at the kids in a majority of the government schools. Grooming is not a high priority. It's hard to tell the boys from the girls.

Posted by: kodonivan | December 3, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

In my school district,many of the students and some teachers were of various brethren sects who were not allowed to gym shorts and whose girls wore long dresses and prayer bonnets from adolescence on. When we had square dancing in gym, before we could start, these youngsters would gather in a group and debate: "We have a TV and the men in the church wear neckties, so I think it's all right for me to square dance as part of gym class." "My church doesn't believe in neckties or TV or anything like that, so I don't think they would approve of square dancing either." After a few minutes they had sorted themselves out into those who had to sit out the class and those who could participate, and the class continued. Nothing was ever said about it; the Brethren sects were in the majority in the community, and everyone took it for granted.

But what did give me trouble was the custom of saying the Lord's Prayer every morning and of the entire student body gathering in the halls every morning in December to sing Christmas Carols. My atheist parents had no objection to any of this, but the faculty assumed there was no need to pass out song sheets to carols "everybody" knew. In the first grade I remember feeling frightened because everybody else seemed to all the words and I didn't.

Let the kid wear his braids--but if the music class includes any holiday songs at all, please pass out the words.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | December 4, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

It is ridicules that the child was suspended for this. He has a right to wear his hair long and braided. It is part of his religion and culture. What happened to religious freedom?

Posted by: Lani1 | December 5, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

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