The ACLU of Louisiana has filed suit on behalf of Seth Chaisson, a Native American student at Juban Parc Junior High School in Denham Springs, Louisiana who was suspended for growing his hair in accordance with his cultural and religious practices. Seth, a member of the United Houma Nations, was suspended for the length of his hair even though he informed school authorities that he was growing it in accordance with his cultural and religious beliefs.
The ACLU of Louisiana sued the Livingston Parish School Board and all of its members, as well as the Superintendent and the Principal of Juban Parc, seeking an order barring school authorities from punishing him further for his hair length, as well as a ruling that the treatment that Seth has received violates the First Amendment right to practice religion. The lawsuit also demands that all disciplinary action taken against Seth because of his hair be removed from his record.
"Seth Chaisson has the right to exercise his beliefs, just as any other student does," said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. "Schools may not discriminate against a student for having a religion that differs from that of school authorities. Just as a Christian student may wear a cross to school, Seth Chaisson has the right to wear his hair in accordance with his religious principles."
On March 15, the ACLU of Louisiana wrote the principal of Juban Parc Junior High explaining that the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom protect Seth's religious beliefs, including the length of his hair. The principal did not respond, and on March 18 the ACLU submitted a formal appeal to the Livingston Parish School Board. After a hearing on March 22, the School Board upheld Seth's suspension and said that it will not issue him an exemption from its dress code.
Louisiana law recognizes that religious training should be left for parents and not subject to interference by school officials. "Seth deserves to know that he can go to school without fear of discrimination by school administrators," said Esman. "Because school personnel have not ensured him of that basic right, it's up to the court to protect him."
A copy of the ACLU's lawsuit is available here.