Indian Legal Clinic Assists ACLU of Texas

The ASU Indian Legal Clinic, lead by Professor Patty Ferguson Bohnee, assisted the ACLU of Texas in its effort to enjoin a Texas school district from enforcing a regulation that would prevent a Native American kindergartner from wearing his hair in braids at school in violation of his constitutional rights. The policy prohibits boys from wearing long hair so the family applied for a religious exemption, which the school district denied. Because of the policy, the student was placed in in-school suspension. The student believes “that his long hair is not only an expression of his ancestry and heritage, but also a sacred symbol of his life and experience in this world,” and the requirement that boys’ hair “shall not cover any part of the ear or touch the top of the standard collar in the back” violates his sincerely held religious belief.

Last semester, Student-Attorneys Joe Sarcinella and Mike Carter assisted in drafting the complaint to include provisions regarding the importance of hair and hair’s religious significance to Native Americans. The Student-Attorneys also helped to identify ASU Professor James Riding In as an expert witness for the preliminary injunction hearing. On January 20, 2009, the Southern District of Texas permanently enjoined the School District’s dress code exemption policy, and the student is allowed to attend and participate in regular classroom activities.