Court Invalidates School District Restrictions on Hair Length

Sikh students in Texas can confidently practice their faith in schools without interference by their school districts due to a recent federal court decision upholding religious freedom in public schools.  In A.A. v. Needville Independent School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a school district violated a Native American kindergartener’s religious rights under Texas state law through its grooming policy.  The policy required boys to keep their hair short enough so that it does not touch their ears or the tops of their collars.  This policy conflicted with the child’s Native American religious belief to keep his hair unshorn and in a braid.  Because the school district’s reasons for the policy did not justify the burden on the child’s fundamental right to practice his faith freely, the court held that the school violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This decision directly impacts the Sikh community in Texas and nationwide.  Sikhs in Texas can freely practice their faith in schools without school district interference.  Sikhs nationwide now have strong precedent to support their argument for religious freedom if they face discrimination because of their Sikh identity.  Recognizing the impact on the Sikh community of the outcome of this decision, the Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs, along with other religious rights organizations, filed an amicus brief in support of the Native American child.  The Sikh Coalition applauds the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for upholding religious freedom as envisioned in the U.S. Constitution and Texas state law.

-Manleen Singh, Kaye Scholer Public Interest Associate

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