Rastafarian Teenager Suspended from Louisiana School Indefinitely for Having Dreadlocks
A school in Louisiana has suspended a Rastafarian teenager for not cutting his dreadlocks. When he tried to return to the South Plaquemines School earlier this month with his dreadlocks pinned up, school officials told him it was still a no-go. Now, the ACLU has come to the defense of the student, pointing out that for Rastafarians, not cutting their hair is a religious mandate, and the school is therefore practicing religious discrimination. The student's mother had tried explaining the importance of dreadlocks to the family's faith to school officials to no avail.
In a letter to the school board, the ACLU explained that, "The wearing of dreadlocks for (the student) is akin to the wearing of a religious icon by another student.”
Specifically, Rastafarians believe Leviticus 21:5 forbids them to cut their hair, and dreadlocks are therefore central to their religious beliefs.
“We would object if the school were to tell a Christian student they could not wear a cross or if it were to permit the wearing of religious icons of one faith and prohibited those of another faith,” the ACLU said. “In discriminating against (the student’s) religious beliefs, the school is expressing a preference for certain religions, which is unacceptable.”
The school is not calling it an official suspension, but the student has missed the first two weeks of school and is not allowed to return until his dreadlocks are gone.
“The actions of the school and Superintendent (Denis) Rousselle are the equivalent of an unlimited suspension,” the ACLU said, adding that the student's constitutional rights were being violated, both in terms of religious freedom and self expression.
This is not the first time Rastafarian children have bumped up against dress code requirements in Louisiana, according to Raw Story, which reports that, "Rastafarian children in Louisiana were given a mild exemption from school dress codes under a 2000 court settlement approved by the Lafayette Parish School Board.
"The family involved in that case agreed their children would wear coverings over their hair that matched school uniforms and would not conceal any contraband."