The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said Thursday it opposes Colorado Springs School District 11’s decision to bar students from wearing the rosary outside their shirts during school hours.

“The First Amendment protects the right of students to express their faith by wearing crosses, rosaries and religious symbols without interference from school officials,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU legal director.

On Monday, Mann Middle School sent an e-mail to parents saying that the Catholic rosaries around the neck were not to be worn outside the shirt in public view. “Failure to honor this request will be treated as a dress code violation,” the announcement said.

District 11 spokeswoman Elaine Naleski said Thursday the reason is that some southern Colorado gangs wear rosaries as unity symbols.

She emphasized that the only Christian symbol the district doesn’t allow are rosaries worn outside the shirt, and schools have autonomy to decide if they will not allow the public display of the symbol.

While it’s common for schools to ban students from wearing gang symbols, Silverstein said that unless a Colorado Springs gang wears a rosary and attends District 11 schools, the argument doesn’t stand up.