Posted: Oct 11, 2010 3:55 PM by Greg Boyce & Andy Koen
Updated: Oct 11, 2010 8:10 PM
A Washington D.C. law firm is representing a 7th grader from Colorado Springs who says he was told in school last week he can't openly wear religious jewelry because some people are or could be offended.
Cainan Gostnell goes to Horace Mann Middle School in District 11. He said he stopped wearing a cross last week after the announcement was made on the school's public address system. Attorney Ed White with the American Center for Law and Justice said Gostnell has the same basic rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression inside the school as he does outside the school
In a letter written to Principal Scott Stanec, White said Gostnell has a "First Amendment right to continue to wear his cross on the outside of his clothing in school. Cainan's cross is a form of symbolic speech."
White notes in his letter "even if students or staff are 'offended' by the religious messages expressed by the wearing of such jewelry, that is an insufficient reason for the school to prevent Cainan and others from wearing religious jewelry in school. If people do not like that method of First Amendment expression, then those people have the obligation to simply look away."
The ACLJ letter says the Gostnell's want assurances that Cainan may continue to wear his cross outside his clothing at (Horace) Mann Middle School without fear of punishment. If that doesn't happen, the ACLJ will pursue the matter in federal court. The letter sent to the principal asks for a written response by October 19, 2010.
News First has so far been unable to get ahold of the District 11 policy that might restrict the wearing of a cross or other religious jewelry in school. The following is the announcement made at the school:
Students, we need to remind everyone that here at Mann, we respect all religious beliefs. Some members of the Catholic faith are offended by rosaries being worn around the neck like fashion accessories. If you wish to wear a rosary around your neck, it must, out of respect for others, be worn underneath your shirt. Failure to honor this request will be treated as a dress code violation.
The school district's dress code further prevents students from wearing any clothing, paraphernalia, grooming, jewelry, accessories or other body adornments that could be considered as symbols of gang involvement or activity.
District spokesperson Elaine Naleski indicated to the Gazette last week that wearing rosaries has been associated as a gang symbol. White says the code is unconstitutional because it is too vague, and "gives schools too much discretion to decide what is or isn't gang related."