A public elementary school violated the law when it refused to allow a Native American student to wear his hair long for religious reasons, according to an appeals court.
The Needville Independent School District’s policy does not allow boys to wear their hair past their collars or over their eyes. Native American student Adriel Arocha challenged the grooming policy, arguing that he must wear his hair long for religious reasons.
Arocha and his family took the matter to court after the school refused to make a religion-based exemption to the policy. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the school’s policy violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a state law ensuring religious liberty.
“As the district court found, [Adriel] has already recognized that he has been treated differently because of his hair,” the court held. “And, given that [Adriel] understands that his hair is part of the practice and expression of his Native American beliefs, the obvious lesson is that he is being treated differently because of his religion. This recognition risks feelings of shame and resentment, a risk that, while real now, will continue to grow.”
Americans United and the Anti-Defamation League filed a friend-of-the-court brief in A.A. v. Needville Independent School District, urging the court to rule in the boy’s favor.