October 19, 2010
Attorneys for a Mann Middle School student who challenged a ban on the boy wearing a cross outside his shirt at school said Tuesday that Colorado Springs School District 11 has backed down in the face of a threatened First Amendment lawsuit.
Attorney Ed White said in an e-mail that D-11 attorneys agreed Monday that 13-year-old Cainan Gostnell should be allowed to wear his necklace cross at school.
A district spokeswoman could not confirm Tuesday that D-11 attorneys reached an agreement, but disputed that the boy’s cross was ever banned or that the school’s policy on displaying religious symbols has been changed.
The spokeswoman, Elaine Naleski, said the district allows students to display all religious symbols except Catholic rosaries. Some schools require students wearing rosaries to keep them covered up, she said, because rosaries have been adopted as a symbol by local gangs. Gang symbols are commonly banned in schools.
The American Center for Law & Justice, a Washington, D.C., firm that specializes in defending constitutional rights, sent the district a letter on behalf of Gostnell, who believed an intercom announcement at Mann on Sept. 30 barred him from wearing his cross openly at school.
The law firm gave District 11 until Tuesday to respond to its demand that Gostnell be allowed to wear the cross openly. If it did not respond, the firm threatened to file a federal lawsuit.
Naleski said Tuesday that the Sept. 30 intercom announcement only said that Mann respects all religious beliefs, and “some Catholics are offended by rosaries being worn around the neck like fashion accessories.” The message goes on to say that rosaries can be worn underneath the shirt.
The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs says it has no issue with the D-11 ban on the rosary because they are not supposed to be worn around the neck, and the school has the right to enforce its dress code.
Each D-11 school has autonomy to adopt the ban on the public display of the rosary or ignore it.
Go to Barna's blog, The Pulpit, at www.thepulpit.freedomblogging.com, for more religion news.