The following article appeared on the First Amendment Center website.
Tennessee high school OKs Muslim headscarf
By The Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A public high school changed its dress code to allow religious headscarves after a national civil rights group for Muslims complained to the principal on behalf of a student.
A spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Emily Smith, 18, a senior at suburban East Ridge High School, wore her “religiously mandated headscarf,” or hijab, on campus for the first time Jan. 13.
Smith said friends and a few teachers told her “congratulations.”
“I wanted to keep it as low-key as possible,” she said.
Rick Smith, an assistant superintendent for Hamilton County schools, said he talked to an assistant principal who told him that there was “not a word, not a question by a student or adult of any kind” in reaction to the headscarf.
An assistant principal, Gary Lowery, declined comment when contacted by phone. He said the school principal, Cheri Dedmon, was out of town.
Khadija Athman, civil rights manager for the Washington, D.C.-based council, said the student asked about her rights in a Jan. 3 e-mail. A letter of complaint was sent to Dedmon on Jan. 6.
The letter said the student as a Muslim is “required to cover her hair in public. Ms. Smith stated that despite numerous efforts to explain to you the importance of the headscarf in her faith, you always found an excuse to hinder her. The various excuses are: needing her grandmother’s permission, it is against the school’s dress code; other students would feel excluded, negative image of Muslim would create safety concerns for Ms. Smith; need to speak to other schools in the area about how they handle the issue etc.”
The letter said religious headscarves are protected by the Constitution and laws that prohibit discrimination in public schools.
Rick Smith said schools have individual dress codes and that the complaint was the first one he was aware of in the county system.
“The school had a standardized dress code in place. Any kind of head wear was prohibited,” he said. “This particular item was a little different because it is a religious garment.”
He said attorneys were consulted and the principal “agreed to allow the student to wear the headscarf.”
Rick Smith said he did not speak with anyone from the council. He said the school system did not have a policy regarding religious clothing.
“It’s something we will look into,” he said.
Athman said the student advised the council that the principal “was willing to work with her. It was just that she wasn’t getting the response she could wear it right now. It was not like it was a hostile environment or anything.”
The student said she first requested permission to wear the headscarf in August but school system spokeswoman Cheryl Marsh said the request was first made “prior to winter break.”
“This hasn’t been lingering around for months but is a relatively new issue,” Marsh said.
The following article appeared on The Rutherford Institute's website.
Maryland School Officials Threaten Seventh Grader with Disciplinary Action for Reading Bible During Lunch Time
Rutherford Institute Attorneys Sue Middle School in Defense of Student’s Right to Read Bible
GREENBELT, Md. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a civil rights lawsuit in defense of the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of a seventh grader who was allegedly ordered by a Maryland middle school employee to stop reading her Bible during free time at school or face disciplinary action. Institute attorneys have asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to declare that prohibiting students from reading Bibles or other religious texts during their free time is unconstitutional.
“We live in a country that touts itself as the cradle of freedom and democracy,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “However, what kind of freedom do we really have when a young girl can’t even read her Bible during lunch time without being punished for it?”
On September 14, 2006, seventh-grader Amber Mangum, who was reading a Bible in the school cafeteria during her lunch period, was allegedly approached by an employee working at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Prince George’s County, Md. In keeping with school policy, students are allowed to read books or engage in interpersonal communications during non-instructional time at school, including lunch periods. Furthermore, published administrative procedure of the Prince George’s County Public Schools provides that “[s]tudents may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable, non-disruptive activities.”
However, the complaint filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys alleges that the school official informed Amber that reading a Bible was a violation of the school’s policy and warned her that she would be subject to more severe disciplinary action if she were found reading a Bible at school again. In defending Amber’s right to read a Bible during non-instructional time at school, Institute attorneys have pointed out that according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2003 guidelines under the No Child Left Behind Act, students have the right to read Bibles or other religious scriptures during lunch hour, recess or other non-instructional times.