NEW ORLEANS, LA – In a fight for religious freedom, the ACLU of Louisiana has enrolled to represent a Native American student at Juban Parc Junior High School in Denham Springs, LA. Seth Chaisson, a member of the United Houma Nation, grows his hair long for cultural and religious reasons. Although he told school authorities of his beliefs and his heritage, Seth has repeatedly been reprimanded for the length of his hair, and on March 15, 2011 he was suspended from school and told that he would remain suspended every day until he cut his hair.
On March 15, the ACLU of Louisiana wrote to the principal of Juban Parc Junior High explaining that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom prohibits the interference with Seth's religious practice, including the length of his hair. Having received no reply, today the ACLU submitted a formal appeal on behalf of the student, seeking reversal of all disciplinary actions against him and demanding that his record be cleared.
“Everyone, including junior high school students, is guaranteed the right to practice his or her religion,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman. “Schools may not discriminate against a student whose religion is not that of the majority. In fact, the schools have an obligation to protect students from religious and other forms of discrimination.”
Louisiana law provides strong protection for religious practices. Recognizing that religious training should be left to parents, schools may not interfere without a particularly compelling reason; adherence to a dress code is not a strong enough reason to override Seth's right to religious freedom. “Preventing a Native American from wearing his hair long is like preventing a Christian from wearing a cross,” Esman continued. “The law protects all faiths, including that of Seth Chaisson. Seth should be commended for his courage in standing up for his religious beliefs and cultural heritage.”