Friday, May 22, 2015

Court Refuses To Allow High School Senior To Wear Eagle Feather On Cap At Graduation

In Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools, (ND OK, May 20, 2015), an Oklahoma federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendaiton (full text) and refused to grant a preliminary injunction to high school student Hayden Griffith who wanted to wear an eagle feather on her mortar board tassel at her high school graduation last night.  The court rejected Griffith's claim that the school district's ban on cap decorations violates her free speech and free exercise rights and her rights under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act (ORFA). Discussing the ORFA claim, the court concluded that Griffith had not shown that the policy substantially burdens her free exercise of religion, saying:
[Griffith] testified that wearing the feather shows her respect for God and for the tribal elder who gave the feather to her, but that failing to attach the feather to her cap would not result in any religious detriment to her. Thus, attaching the feather to her graduation cap would be a personal expression of religious significance to Griffith, but it is not a religiously motivated “practice” ... or an activity that is “fundamental” to her religion.... Nor does the policy prohibiting decorations on graduation caps during the ceremony “meaningfully curtail” her ability to express adherence to her faith..... The policy does not prevent Griffith from attaching the feather to her cap at any time other than the graduation ceremony. She may attach it to her cap it up until she enters the graduation ceremony, and she may affix the feather to her cap immediately after the ceremony. The school superintendent also offered to re-pose for the professional photographer with Griffith wearing her feather on her cap after the ceremony. In sum, Griffith may display the feather as she wishes throughout her celebration of her graduation, other than during the graduation ceremony with her fellow classmates.
Tulsa World reported on the decision.