Alabama student allowed to wear cross in view for now

Wednesday, February 2, 2000

At least for the moment, public school officials in an Alabama county are permitting a student to wear a cross outside her school attire in violation of the district’s dress code.

Last week, Walker County school officials said they would permit Kandice Smith, an 11-year-old student at Curry Middle School in Jasper, to wear her cross necklace openly to school. School officials said they would ignore — for Smith and other students — the district’s dress code provision that bans all openly worn jewelry on campus while the constitutionality of the code is litigated in federal court.

Last September, Smith’s principal ordered her to place her cross underneath her shirt or face suspension.

In October, Smith, represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, sued the district, claiming its policy violated her religious liberties.

“Kandice has a sincerely held religious belief that she should visibly wear this cross necklace around her neck as a means of expressing her Christian faith to others,” the ACLJ’s complaint reads. “Defendants’ policy prohibiting Plaintiff from openly wearing this cross necklace unconstitutionally inhibits her from exercising her religion and places an undue burden on the exercise of her faith.”

In its answer to the ACLJ lawsuit, the county argues that jewelry presents safety problems and distractions in classrooms and that its dress code does not target religious-oriented jewelry.

The Walker County dress code allows students to wear jewelry to a limited extent. “Neck jewelry should be restricted to around the neck and not hang outside of the required shirt,” the policy states. Also it states that “reasonable accommodations should be made for religious beliefs if such functioning would not unduly interfere with the effective functioning of the school room.”

The ACLJ maintains that school officials must grant Smith an exemption from the school’s policy on jewelry. “For Kandice to express her faith through the visible wearing of the cross around her neck, she does under the threat of substantial punishment.”