Suspended for a nose ring

Piercings are a sore subject for me. I had to work (keep my room clean for several months) to get permission to get my ears pierced at 13. It was clearly a sign of privilege (and a tool for my parents to hold me under their thumbs). I reminded my father of this recently and he said, “I did not realize we made you keep your room clean. I guess we should have had you write a research paper on ear piercing.”

A piercing case in North Carolina is brewing after a 14-year-old high school student received yet another suspension for wearing a nose stud. This isn’t your average rebellious teenager, though. Ariana Iacono and her mother are members of a group called the Church of Body Modification.

The Johnston County school system has a dress code that prohibits facial piercings, and the American Civil Liberties Union has come out in favor of Iacono. Some of the obvious questions would focus on the Church of Body Modification, why do they encourage body piercing, and how would their focus on body piercings compare with other traditions and rituals, such as head coverings.

One of the better articles I’ve seen so far came from Tom Breen of the Associated Press, who spoke to Richard Ivey, the minister of the local Church of Body Modification.

Ivey describes the church as a non-theistic faith that draws people who see tattoos, piercings and other physical alterations as ways of experiencing the divine.

“We don’t worship the god of body modification or anything like that,” he said. “Our spirituality comes from what we choose to do ourselves. Through body modification, we can change how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world.”

The church claims roughly 3,500 members nationwide, having started about two years ago, after adopting the name of a similar group that had been dormant for several years.

Sarah Nagem of the News Observer looked at another court case involving the Church of Body Modification.

In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a $2 million religious discrimination lawsuit filed by a Massachusetts member of the Church of Body Modification. The woman sued retailer Costco when it fired her for refusing to remove or cover her eyebrow piercing.

Parker said that case can’t be compared to Ariana’s fight with the school system because it involves an employer.

“That’s a different situation than a student in a high school,” she said.

Are there any recent court cases that look at religious beliefs and education? Surely there are more religious freedom experts than the group with a direct interest in this case. Back to the AP, here’s another case:

In 1999, a federal court in North Carolina ruled that the Halifax County school system had violated such hybrid rights of Catherine Hicks and her great-grandson by forcing the boy to wear a school uniform.

Hicks’ religious beliefs held that uniformity is linked to the anti-Christ, a belief Halifax schools rejected. But the court ruled in her favor, and ordered the school system to include a religious exemption in its dress code policy.

Back to general questions about this religion, how does one join the Church of Body Modification, how often do they meet, what kinds of rituals do they participate in? Do people give money to the organization; if so, where does it go? There’s no need to write an entire article on the church, but a paragraph or two might give some context for this piercing case. Is anyone offering more thorough coverage?

First image via Wikimedia commons. Second image via The Church of Body Modification store.

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  • Jerry

    I don’t know about the church’s rituals etc, but to me the compelling question is reasonable accommodation to religious beliefs. It seems to me that the first amendment’s religion clause means that there has to be reasonable permission for religious rituals. Obviously there’s a limit to allowing a group to call themselves a church and claiming the right to violate laws in the name of religious freedom, but I find it hard to believe that a tasteful nose ring is in that category. I guess the truism that “common sense isn’t common” is true.

    And that leads me to want to see more coverage of the first amendment religion issues in cases like this. So, rather than asking more questions about the religion itself, I would have wanted more focus on the reasonable accommodation constitutional question.

  • Jon in the Nati

    The relevant question is not whether the Church of Body Modification is a “real church” representing a “real religion” (although I have an opinion on that as well…). The question is whether there is a legitimate educational purpose for the ban on piercings (or anything else, for that matter). If the answer is yes, then administrators can do almost anything they want. In practice, admins have a pretty wide berth.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Excellent points. Thanks for adding ideas.

  • kristy

    Home School.

  • Stoo

    A good question to ask the school authorities would be, would they make an exception if a major world religion had a tradition of nose rings.

  • Xander

    Just a slight correction: The name of the Raleigh newspaper is the News & Observer, not the News Observer, as indicated in the article. True,the paper’s website is, but even then the favicon is a big ampersand.

  • John

    this is ridiculous, i have an eyebrow ring, i take it out for work everyday, my wife is a teacher, kids these days need a good ass kicking… take the damn thing out, get over it for 4 hours… i’m her “church” doesn’t say you ahve to LEAVE it in… people try to find ways to disturb piece.. stereotypically the tattooed pierced people… ironic huh..

  • John

    *** sorry for typos, dag on phone internet…

  • aldon @ orient lodge

    The Church of Body Modification is a Federally recognized non-profit religious institution. You can read their statement of faith online:

    In part, it says:

    We believe our bodies belong only to ourselves and are a whole and integrated entity: mind, body, and soul. We maintain we have the right to alter them for spiritual and other reasons.

    It looks to me like the case has considerable merit and the school is wasting taxpayers money in fighting an ill advised battle which serves no academic purpose.

    In fact, the vision for the school, as listed on their website says that:

    The vision of Clayton High School is to create an atmosphere of inclusion which will foster the acceptance of diverse students…

    I have written to members of the board of education to ask how this policy creates the atmosphere of inclusion they envision.

    In terms of acceptable reasons to get around the First Amendment, courts have usually found that the educational mission alone is not sufficient. That is the school needs to show that there is more than legitimate educational purpose. Based on the famous Tinker case, the school needs to show that it causes a substantial disruption. In fact, in this case, like many other cases where students First Amendment rights are violated, any substantial disruption is really the cause of intolerant school administrators.