Policy Change Prompts Investigation Into Whether Students’ Religious Rights Compromised

Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, (713) 942-8146 x 109; [email protected]

HOUSTON – The ACLU of Texas on Thursday requested that Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) disclose policies, procedures, and practices relating to students’ right to freely exercise their religious faith, including their right to wear religious attire at school.

The ACLU of Texas specifically asked for information about Rivera High School’s new policy that prohibits students from wearing rosaries or crosses visibly at school.

“Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act, students’ right to wear articles of faith in school is indisputably protected,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director with the ACLU of Texas.

While the school district has reportedly justified the policy change as necessary to prevent gang activity, district officials did not cite any actual evidence of gang activity connected to rosaries or crosses when they issued the policy.  The Public Information Act request the ACLU of Texas filed Thursday asks for information about how the policy has been applied to date, any complaints about the policy, and any information BISD relied on in formulating, adopting, and implementing the policy.

“We support the school district’s critical mandate to keep all children safe at school,” said Public Education Director Dotty Griffith. “However, BISD’s action in limiting the constitutional rights of all students, absent evidence of an actual threat, would be like sending a colt to the glue factory to keep it from running away.”

The ACLU of Texas also sent letters to all Texas school districts to remind school administrators of their obligation to protect students’ rights to freely exercise their religion under federal and state laws. The letter also asks school officials to ensure that no student is discriminated against or harassed on the basis of his or her religion.

“Through proactive communication, it is our hope that school officials are better able to foster tolerance in their schools and ensure compliance with constitutional requirements,” said Graybill.

Read a copy of the open records request to Brownsville ISD and the letter sent to all Texas ISDs.