January 11, 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

RALEIGH, NC -- In a victory for religious freedom and students' rights, a nine-year-old public school student will no longer face suspension for not wearing a school uniform because doing so conflicted with his family's religous beliefs, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said today.

In a settlement with officials at McIver Elementary School in Halifax, Aaron Ganues, who was twice suspended for failure to wear the school uniform, will be allowed a religious exemption from wearing the uniform for the remainder of his public school education. 

"I am so happy to go back to school," said Aaron, an honor student with a near-perfect attendance record. 

The settlement was reached on the eve of a trial to decide the matter, in a case brought by the ACLU on behalf of Aaron and his guardian, Catherine Hicks. Last December, a federal court refused school official's request to dismiss the case and ordered a trial to begin on January 10. 

In its order, the court held that Aaron and his guardian "have now raised a genuine issue of material fact as to the nature of the burden imposed upon their free exercise of religion by the school uniform policy." The Court also ordered mediation. Halifax County will also amend its school uniform policy to allow religious exemptions and will pay for the cost of Aaron's schooling while he was out of the Halifax school system. 

"This is a bright day for Aaron and for the First Amendment's promise of religious freedom," said Deborah Ross, Executive and Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. "No child should be denied a public school education for failing to comply with a school uniform policy that conflicts with his family's religious beliefs." 

 

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