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12 Days of Religious Liberty - Day 3

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December 16, 2011

During what is often referred to as the holiday season, a variety of cultures and religions honor an equally diverse number of both religious and secular traditions. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Bodhi Day are just some of the religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year. And for many who don’t subscribe to a particular faith tradition, the season is still seen as an occasion to gather with friends and family.

No matter why you are celebrating this holiday season, we can all celebrate living in a country where religious freedom is a fundamental value. The First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses not only protect the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs.

In honor of our country’s proud history of promoting religious freedom, and the ACLU’s commitment to protecting the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith, this holiday season we are highlighting 12 cases we have brought on behalf of a variety of faiths defending religious liberty and the right to religious expression.

Third Day: ACLU Defends Kindergartener’s Religious Expression
Students have a right to display articles of faith (like rosaries, for example) in the classroom and the ACLU works to defend students’ rights to voluntary religious expression.

Kenney Arocha and Michelle Betenbaugh requested a religious exemption to Needville Independent School District’s dress code policy that requires boys to keep their hair short. Their son, who was in Kindergarten at the time, wore his hair in two long braids in keeping with his family’s Native American beliefs. The school responded by requiring the student to wear his long hair in a tight braid stuffed down his shirt at all times, and when the 5-year-old nevertheless attended school with two long braids, in accordance with his family’s religious and cultural practices, school officials forced him into in-school suspension.

The ACLU of Texas and the ACLU sued – and won. The courts ruled that NISD’s policy violates the student’s right to religious freedom under the First Amendment and Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act; his right to free expression under the First Amendment; and his parents’ fundamental rights to direct his religious upbringing under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Change link Read more…

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For more instances of the ACLU rigorously defending the rights of all religious believers to practice their faiths, please visit our website.

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