Student's Star of David Necklace is Not a 'Gang Symbol, 'ACLU of MS Tells School Officials

Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi
August 16, 1999 12:00 am

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GULFPORT, MS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is intervening on behalf of a Jewish high school student who was told that he could not openly wear his Star of David necklace because it was considered it a gang symbol.

If the matter is not resolved favorably at a school board meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. tonight, the ACLU said that it may represent the student and his family in a lawsuit.

The controversy began at school registration at Harrison Central High School, where 11th-grade student Ryan Green and his father, Tom Green, were told by a guidance counselor that Ryan would have to tuck the necklace inside his shirt. Mr. Green explained to the counselor that Ryan wore the necklace as symbol of his family’s Jewish faith.

But the Greens were told that a six-pointed star could be a gang symbol. (Six-pointed stars do appear in some gang symbols, but with other elements such as the letter “G” or pitchforks.)

When Ryan wore his Star of David necklace to school later in the week, a teacher again told him that he would have to tuck it in his shirt. When his father called principal Janelle Parker, she, too, said that Ryan would have to conceal the necklace. An appeal to the Superintendent’s office yielded the same answer.

“Ryan Green’s Star of David necklace is clearly an expression of his Jewish faith, just as a necklace with a cross is an expression of Christian faith,” said David Ingebretsen, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “These and other religious symbols are constitutionally protected religious speech.”

“Coming just days after the shocking attack on a Jewish community center in Los Angeles, I would hope that school officials would have a little more sensitivity to a student’s religious beliefs,” Ingebretsen added.

“The school district is rightly concerned about gang activity,” he said. “but they can deal with that concern in a manner that does not violate a student’s religious freedom.”

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