OUR VIEW: D-11 targets Catholics, no one else (vote)

By: Wayne Laugesen
October 7, 2010
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Students of District 11, listen up. You absolutely must know the Constitution. You should start with the First Amendment. The Constitution protects you from abuse by government authorities. It upholds fundamental rights each of us is born with, forbidding government from messing with them. It keeps government from forcing you to be religious or non religious.

Right now, your most fundamental rights are under attack by the government officials who run your school district. They are intent upon violating your First Amendment rights.

For students who haven’t studied it yet, the First Amendment says this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It says you have a right to express yourself and to worship as you see fit in public and in private without interference from Congress. No, your principal, school board members and superintendent are not Congress. But the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, extends the First Amendment and other constitutional constraints on Congress to all other governments in the United States. So, when you read the First Amendment, replace the word “Congress” with “public schools.” Doing this, you’ll understand that public schools shall make no laws abridging your right to express faith in Jesus and Mary or other controversial beliefs.

Despite the clear meaning of the First Amendment, officials in your district have decided you do not have a right to express yourselves as Catholics by wearing the rosary.

Mann Middle School sent an e-mail to parents saying Catholic Rosaries worn around the neck cannot be seen, and will be treated as a dress code violation. District officials have told other schools they have the option to impose this constraint on freedom of expression and religion. It’s OK to wear a cross, a Star of David, an “evolve” fish, or other religious symbols without violating the dress code. Just don’t wear the rosary, they say, which is a symbol of only one religion — Catholicism.

The stated rationale for this First Amendment violation is concern that some gangs wear rosaries. So what? The First Amendment says nothing about the fashion trends of gangs automatically negating freedoms of religion and speech for everyone else. Some terrorists wear the Sword of Allah. Does that mean Islamic students shouldn’t have a right to wear sacred Islamic symbols?

(Vote in poll to the right in red type. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

It’s not just The Gazette that sees this policy, which burdens only Catholics, as a blatant violation of fundamental rights.

“Our Constitution protects the right to individual religious liberty and the ACLU is here to support everyone who chooses to exercise that right,” said ACLU Executive Director Mark Silverstein, in a written indictment of D-11’s anti-rosary rule Thursday. (See full statement)

You have a right to wear a rosary on public property, unless it's a school that bans all religious icons. The right may be interfered with only by your parents, and only until you are 18. If you choose to wear a rosary — to exercise your rights — remember that the ACLU has your back.

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Call or e-mail Mark Silverstein of the ACLU to thank him for defending the rosary

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