Friday, January 08, 2016

Court Rejects Federal Challenges To School Ban On Graduate Wearing Eagle Feather

Having previously denied a preliminary injunction in the case (see prior posting), this week an Oklahoma federal district court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Native American high school senior challenging a school policy that barred her from wearing an eagle feather on her mortar board tassel at her high school graduation. The feather had been given to her by a tribal elder, and it would be a sign of disrespect not to wear the feather which is sacred according to her religious beliefs. In Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools, (ND OK, Jan. 5, 2015), the court rejected plaintiff's free speech claim, concluding that graduation attire is school-sponsored speech, and that the school had a legitimate pedagogical reason for restricting decorations on graduation caps.   It rejected her First Amendment free exercise claim, finding that the regulation is a neutral rule of general applicability.  Finally the court refused to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction to decide plaintiff's claim that the school's restriction violates Oklahoma's Religious Freedom Act.  Plaintiff remains free to refile that claim in state court.