A Middle School in Colorado Springs has banned the wearing of rosaries as necklaces, because either gang members may wear the rosaries as identifiers, or because wearing a rosary as a necklace might conceivable offend some Catholics.
These reasons don’t seem to hold much water, as banning “gang symbols” is arbitrary at best, and there is no Catholic doctrine prohibiting the wearing of rosaries or even deeming such an act particularly offensive.
David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy opines that this ban is probably illegal, and unabashedly points out that a local editorial has come to the same conclusion by relying upon the opinions of himself and co-Conspirator Eugene Volokh.
Mann Middle School in Colorado Springs has banned students from wearing rosaries as visible necklaces. School officials have offered two different rationales: some gang members wear rosaries as gang symbols; some Catholics are offended by the wearing of rosaries on the neck. A Colorado Springs Gazette editorial on the controversy quotes Eugene Volokh and David Kopel, and concludes that the ban is almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment.
Note also a similar case from Schenectady, N.Y.: after the American Center for Law and Justice filed suit, the federal district court for the northern district of New York entered a TRO ending the student’s suspension for wearing a rosary. The school board repealed its rosary-wearing ban.
The school board is certainly in the wrong here, and if this gets challenged in any legal venue, it will almost certainly loose. Kopel cites a case in New York, but I have witnessed a similar example up-close. At my old high school, a student (and friend of mine) was a practicing Satanist, and wore a shirt with an inverted pentagram on it that read “Satanic Army.” (Actually, it was a Marylin Manson shirt — you knew that guy was trouble!) He was told to turn the shirt inside out, because the district dress code prohibited depictions of Satan. He refused on the basis of the First Amendment, and challenged the district code. The district consulted an attorney and changed the dress code without any resistance, even going so far as to remove a clause banning “gang insignias” (a trope that appears in the Colorado Springs case as well) on the basis that what constituted a gang or a gang symbol could not be readily defined, and banning such a display may violate freedom of expression.
If a school district will reverse its dress code based upon a non-legal challenge over a Marylin Manson t-shirt, I’m relatively sure that it is only appropriate that the same consideration be shown an actual expression of religious devotion.