Shock: ACLU backs right of 12-year-old girl to wear rosary to school

An apt news item for the beginning of October, the month of the rosary, don’t you think?


The Nebraska ACLU is siding with a sixth-grade girl who said that her religious beliefs have been compromised because the Fremont Public School District won’t let her go to class wearing a necklace that resembles a rosary.

The Fremont Middle School student said recently that the policy infringes on her rights to express her religious beliefs.

Fremont Superintendent Steve Sexton said the policy is for student safety. He said school officials have received information from police that the rosary is being used as a symbol of gang affiliation.

Amy Miller, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said Monday that the ban raises “serious concerns” about children’s religious liberty.

“Students have the right to express their faith in public schools,” Miller said. “Whether a student wants to wear a crucifix, a rosary or another symbol, it is wrong for school officials to interfere.

“We understand the serious concerns about gangs in schools, but Fremont Public Schools should demonstrate there is a concrete gang connection before shutting down a student’s free speech and religious rights.”

Religious leaders are weighing in, too:

Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Cary says her necklace is a reminder of her faith. And she vowed to stand up for what she believes in and fight the Fremont, Neb., school district, where she is a sixth grader.

The local Catholic archdioceses has condemned the decision to ban rosaries from schools and says administrators should be smart enough to tell which students are at risk for gang activity.

‘We ought to be able to figure out whether she is really in a gang. And if she’s not, why would she be punished for what ought to be her right of religious freedom and religious expression?’ asked Rev. Joseph Taphorn.

Taphorn told KETV-7 in Omaha, Neb., that the ban on rosaries is an infringement on Elizabeth’s rights to freely practice her religion.

‘It makes me feel like I want to scream really bad,’ Elizabeth told the TV station.

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22 responses to “Shock: ACLU backs right of 12-year-old girl to wear rosary to school”

  1. Why is it a shock that the ACLU would go to bat for a slam dunk of a religious freedom case? They have gone to court many times for Christian plaintiffs, despite the characterization of the group by dominionists as being militant atheists.

    I’m a pretty tough secularist in many regards, but this to me IS a cut and dried case of religious freedom. Unless the school can prove a reasonable and documented safety concern, it has no business banning the wearing of any religious symbol. As an aside, I do question whether the wearing of a rosary denotes bona fide Catholic identity. When I grew up Catholic, wearing a rosary was considered improper and vaguely disrepectful and was not tolerated for long by any nun who spotted it. Nevertheless, that is not a matter for public school officials to judge.

    The ACLU was right to take this, and they will win. That will be an important victory, but also a bloody inconvenient development for the architects of the persecution narrative which says a Christian can’t get a fair shake in this country.

  2. OMG! Is there a blue moon out? Are the planets all in alignment? Has Elvis just been spotted? What will this world come to now? LOL.

  3. If someone could teach devout Catholics that the rosary isn’t costume jewelry, then it would be only gang members who wore it that way.

  4. You do know that literally tens of thousands of folks hang rosaries from their rear-view mirrors on their car’s , don’t you ?

  5. A 12 year old with more courage than most adults…

    “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” (1 Cor.16:13)

  6. The article said she was wearing a necklace resembling a rosary, not a rosary.

    A rosary should not be considered jewelry, but I am not going to complain if someone does, because Mary can use it for the good of the Kingdom.

  7. “The local Catholic archdioceses has condemned the decision to ban rosaries from schools and says administrators should be smart enough to tell which students are at risk for gang activity.”

    Unfortunately that is only part of the issue. Can members of the non-rosary-wearing-gang distinguish between her and one of their gang rivals? And if the school permits her to wear the necklace-that-resembles-a-rosary and she ends up dead in a back hallway, will the school then be held summarily responsible for her death?

    I am glad to see the ACLU standing up for the rights of students to express their religious beliefs freely in the school, and I suspect the case will be decided for the student. She is courageous to stand up for her faith. But, having worked in a school for almost 20 years I have to wonder if the school is truly guilty of religious discrimination here.

  8. You’re not supposed to WEAR the Rosary: “Can. 1171 Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.”

  9. You do know that literally tens of thousands of folks hang rosaries from their rear-view mirrors on their car’s , don’t you ?

    I bought, at a Catholic book store, a rosary specfically designed to be hung from a rear-view mirror. (I think it has about a decade and a half worth of beads.)

  10. I formerly ministered to inmates of the Nebraska State Penetentiary and we has a real issue with rosaries and their identification with particular gangs. So much so that I was no longer allowed to distribute rosaries to the men who came to Mass on sunday afternoon. The rosaries were of the plastic and string type, of whatever color I could get my hands on.

    Gang affiliation was only one use for these items. It seems that the other wouold be to melt them down and use them as tattooo ink.

    (Remember, these guys have a LOT of time on their hands)

    Anyway, I was able to negotiate being able to distribute white rosaries as they had no gang affiliation nor were they much desired for tattoos.

    I have been away from that ministry for nearly four years now, so I am not aware of the current state of affairs concerning rosaries.

    I guess what I find interesting is that felons in Nebraska (many, many of whom are decent people who have made big mistakes) have more rights concerning religious expression than school children in Nebraska. Go figure.

  11. 11 Dutchman

    Couple of things to consider:

    “Sacred Objects” in Canon Law means those items used for public worship — albs, chalices, stoles etc.

    The rosary, as an object, is used for private prayer not public worship. That may surprise you so I’ll say it again: Praying a rosary, as a devotion, regardless how many people do it in unison, is always considered in Canon Law a private prayer.

    That is why you can have so many variations in the pattern of praying a rosary and not violate any law of the Church.

    Besides, the word “WEAR” does not appear in your quote anyway.

    That is also why you are not supposed to pray the Rosary during Mass. Participating in Mass is a public worship and it always supercedes any private prayer.

    Wearing the rosary as a sign of devotion has every bit as much spiritual merit as wearing a scapular, a Miraculous Medal, or even a “deacons’ pin.”

  12. Dutchman,

    That particular canon can certainly be applied to rosaries, however, there is no strict prohibition agains wearing a rosary, and it could be argued that the wearing of a rosary certainly can be done with due reverence.


    I had a State Trooper pull me over to tell me that my rosary was an obstruction (along with a 10-legged octopus made of yarn that my future wife.
    I thought that was funny, although I did not laugh in his presence. Some people (myself included) remove the rosary from my rearview mirrow, pray it and return it to dangle freely in my windshield.


  13. Re #11 Dutchman

    It runs in my mind that wearing a rosary around your neck was fairly common among Roman Catholic combat troops in World War II; Korea and Vietnam.

    I’ll have to check with my friends now in uniform to see if that is still being done.

  14. Interesting that gangs would use a rosary as way to recognize each other. Guess as long as this child isn’t playing with it during class, it should be no problem—unless a “gang” member thinks she belongs with them! 🙂

  15. I wish this wasn’t a shock. The ACLU consistently stands up for the right of individual students to express their beliefs in schools. School and governmental endorsement of religious beliefs is constitutionally impermissible because it stifles the religious expression of students and other individuals who may not share those beliefs, but the protection of individual expression without government endorsement? That’s the whole reason the ACLU exists.

  16. As to wearing the rosary, we have Dominican priests and novices who wear the rosary all the time. I once looked on this as an issue, and one of our dominicans shared this with me on a quote from the writings of St. Louis De Monfort

    “Alphonsus, King of Leon and Galicia, very much wanted all his servants to honor the Blessed Virgin by saying the Rosary. So he used to hang a large rosary on his belt and always wore it, but unfortunately never said it himself. Nevertheless his wearing it encouraged his courtiers to say the Rosary very devoutly.

    One day the King fell seriously ill and when he was given up for dead he found himself, in a vision, before the judgement seat of Our Lord. Many devils were there accusing him of all the sins he had committed and Our Lord as Sovereign Judge was just about to condemn him to hell when Our Lady appeared to intercede for him. She called for a pair of scales and had his sins placed in one of the balances whereas she put the rosary that he had always worn on the other scale, together with all the Rosaries that had been said because of his example. It was found that the Rosaries weighed more than his sins.

    Looking at him with great kindness Our Lady said: “As a reward for this little honor that you paid me in wearing my Rosary, I have obtained a great grace for you from my Son. Your life will be spared for a few more years. See that you spend these years wisely, and do penance.”

    When the King regained consciousness he cried out: “Blessed be the Rosary of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, by which I have been delivered from eternal damnation!”

    After he had recovered his health he spent the rest of his life in spreading devotion to the Holy Rosary and said it faithfully every day. People who love the Blessed Virgin out to follow the example of King Alphonsus and that of the saints whom I have mentioned so that they too may win other souls for the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. They will then receive great graces on earth and eternal life later on. “They that explain me shall have life everlasting life.” [1] Ecclus. 24:31″

    After getting this, I gave each of my grandchildren a rosary to wear and have one for myself along with my Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which I have worn for decades. Of course if you wear it or hang it from your mirror, it is a good idea to also use it every day and do not take the risk you do not get the blessing and second chance described above.

  17. Pagansister, I’m just tickled the pentacle isn’t the anti-social symbol of choice anymore. That stigma is a burden which ought to be shared equally among the world’s faiths on a rotating basis! I think the Bahais are due for a turn. That nine-pointed star would hang very nicely on a gangbangers bling….just sayin.

  18. #20 Kenneth:
    Your statement makes me wonder just why a rosary would be the jewelry of choice for gang members. Does anyone here have a possible reason? Would be almost sure that the fellows (or girls perhaps) in the gangs aren’t Catholic.

    I’m glad also that the pentacle isn’t being used.

  19. Wearing a rosary around the neck is a common Hispanic custom, brought to the New World and the Philippines by Spanish Franciscans and missionaries of other orders. There was an indulgence available at that time for wearing the rosary around the neck, and there still may be. There were also many legends and true stories of people saved from death by wearing the rosary; you will still see such cases reported in various newspapers in the Spanish-speaking world.

    Many Hispanic gangmembers are Catholic, or at least were supposed to be raised Catholic. Often some relative made them promise to wear the rosary always, and at least they do that even if they forget all the rest. There’s a popular proverb in Spanish, dating back to the 1500’s at least, warning against being somebody who has the Rosary around their neck but not in their heart. This sort of situation is why they have that saying.

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