Feb 21, 2011 8:21 PM by David Ortiviz
Religious freedom versus school safety. It's a hot topic right now at Pueblo County High School. The principal says students cannot wear rosaries to school, because they're considered a gang symbol. However, some believe this may be violating the students' constitutional rights.
For Catholics the rosary is a string of beads used for counting prayers, but the high school says it also has a non-religious reference. "It's said to be gang affiliated to wear the rosary because of the thirteen beads," said Terrie Tafoya, principal at Pueblo County High School. Tafoya says according to local law enforcement the number 13 is often associated with gangs, including the Sorenos.
Tafoya says rosaries violate the dress code. "We do not allow gang related dress of paraphernalia," said Tafoya. School District 70's dress code policy says: "Non-traditional clothing, make-up, nail polish, lipstick and other attire that distracts from the educational process and environment is not acceptable."
Last week, students were told if you wear a rosary either remove it or tuck it under your clothing. "We're not saying you cannot wear religious paraphernalia, we're saying we're not going to allow you to wear rosaries because of the affiliation it has with gangs," said Tafoya.
"Students have a first amendment right to wear the rosary," said Ed White, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington D.C.
The A.C.L.J. says the first amendment not only protects free speech, but symbolic speech such as a rosary. "The only time a school can come in and restrict that expression is if the expression causes material and substanial disruption to the workings of the school," said White.
"It's not a distraction to the learning process, but the fact that it's an affiliation to the gang," said Tafoya.
The A.C.L.J. says it's offensive to assume all students who wear rosaries are in a gang.
The high school says it still allows students to carry them in their pockets or even on their belts, just not around their necks outside their clothing.