Get rid of your discriminatory clothing policy, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to a Kansas school district.
“I raise my children according to the seven tenets of Satanism, and while children of other faiths can wear clothing that declares their family’s religion, my family’s faith is specifically called out and banned in the school handbook dress code,” Mary Turner, a mother of three students in Hays USD 489 and a member of the Satanic Temple, pointed out during the public comment period of a school board meeting on July 18.
Turner called on the board to cease its blatantly discriminatory policy. “I am here to ask that the school board remove Satanism from their dress code policy and they no longer blacklist my family’s faith and the faith of other families here in Hays as distracting, unsafe or offensive,” she requested.
The school board disregarded her plea, however, and instead voted 5-2 on Aug. 5 to expand its prohibition of clothing promoting Satanism from elementary and middle schools to all schools in the district.
Such a dress code discriminates against minority religions, FFRF contends. That’s why the state/church watchdog has written to the board in support of Turner, her children and all nonreligious and minority religious students and families in Hays USD 489.
“Satanism is a religion, and students cannot be singled out for punishment or ridicule for expressing religious or nonreligious viewpoints in their public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Hays USD 489 Board of Education President Craig Pallister. “The district impermissibly discriminates on the basis of religion, and violates the free speech rights of its students, when it prohibits expression of certain religious viewpoints.”
Regardless of the majority of the community’s views on Satanism, it constitutes a religion for First Amendment purposes; the First Amendment requires more than mere unpopularity to regulate or ban student expression, FFRF adds. The current dress code’s ban on references to Satanism acts as a prior restraint on student speech, FFRF explains. The U.S. Supreme Court has firmly established that regardless of whether a rule has actually been enforced, the codified threat of punishment, coupled with unfettered discretion for enforcement by a government actor, is itself a constitutional violation.
“The district’s dress code is additionally unconstitutional because it isolates a specific viewpoint,a specific religion, for threatened censorship,” FFRF writes. “Viewpoint discrimination is an especially potent concern animating free speech jurisprudence.”
The dress code must be modified so as to not express a preference for — or intolerance of — expression of any religious viewpoint, FFRF insists in conclusion. Changing this policy will cost the district nothing, while continuing to have it on the books exposes the district to significant legal liability from any district student or parent who chooses to take legal action.
“The district would never even consider prohibiting students from wearing crosses or Christian references on their clothing,” remarks FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This school district must treat its nonreligious and minority religious students and their families the same way it does those who hold the majority belief.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundations is a national nonprofit organization with more than 37,000 members across the country, including members in Kansas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.