It’s happening across the country – from New York to California.
Students singled out for wearing a rosary to school. School officials want the rosary removed – kept out of sight – because they claim it’s a gang symbol. The students we represent don’t have anything to do with gangs – they want to wear the rosary as a symbol of their faith.
Now, some very good news in our latest effort to protect the constitutional rights of public school students. This case is on the West Coast.
We represent Maurace Zetino and his family. Maurace is a 10th grade student at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, California. Maurace, who was “Student of the Month” for January 2011, has been wearing a rosary to school on the outside of his clothing for the past few months as an expression of his religious beliefs. He received the rosary during a confirmation retreat with his Catholic parish.
In April 2011, school officials told him that he could no longer wear his rosary to school because the school deemed the rosary to be a gang symbol. Maurace is not a gang member and he wears the rosary only for religious reasons.
We immediately sent a demand letter to school officials to ensure that Maurace could continue to wear his rosary without interference and that no negative comments would appear in his school record regarding his wearing of the rosary.
We put the school on notice. Our demand letter was clear: “Maurace has a First Amendment right to wear openly and publicly his rosary” to school. “Maurace wears the rosary, a form of symbolic speech, to convey his faith in God and to identify himself as a Christian and a Catholic.”
We urged the school district to take immediate corrective action or face a federal lawsuit.
I am pleased to report that the school officials complied with our demands. The school’s attorney responded saying that Maurace “is not prohibited from wearing his rosary at school” and that “no disciplinary action concerning his wearing the rosary is reflected in his school records.”
After we notified the Zetino family about the victory, Maurace’s mother emailed our Senior Attorney Edward White and said: “We are very proud of our son for taking a stand on this issue. From the very beginning, Maurace knew what had happened to him was wrong. Maurace and I would like to thank you and the ACLJ – we’re so glad that Maurace found you.”
We are, too. And we’re delighted with the outcome of this case.
Our friends at the California-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom joined us in representing Maurace and his family in this matter.
This is the fourth time in the last year that the ACLJ has successfully protected the constitutional rights of public school students to wear religious jewelry to school as an expression of their faith.
Last year, we filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court to obtain a court order to ensure that our client could wear his rosary to school. We also achieved positive results through demand letters this past year to ensure that a student in Colorado could wear his cross to public school and to ensure that a student in Texas could wear her rosary to public school.