CESAR and Diego Gonzales sport long braids because of a promise their Roman Catholic family made to their God.
But the Mathis Independent School Board in Texas prohibits boys from participating in extracurricular activities if their hair is longer than collar-length, and now faces a lawsuit if they refuse to accommodate the religious beliefs of the Gonzales family.
The school board has been warned by the legal group Becket that “the law is clear” and it will lose in court if it doesn’t reverse its decision to ban two brothers from activities such as football because of the length of their hair.
Becket spokesman Montse Alvarado said the Texas Association of School Boards requires districts to:
Becket explained that when Cesar was an infant, he contracted a serious illness, and his parents, Pedro and Belen Gonzales, made a promise to God never to cut a small strand of their son’s hair if he was healed.
Accommodate requests for exceptions based on a student or parent’s sincerely held religious belief.A religious promise to keep a small strand of uncut hair shouldn’t ban school children from catching touchdowns or participating in student council meetings.
The school board should give these boys a chance to be active in the sports and clubs they love – not only because the school would lose miserably in court, but because it is the right thing to do.
The family has kept this deeply personal religious promise ever since, and their sons have adopted the religious promise as their own.
Although the school’s dress code forbids male students from having hair past the collar, the school district granted an exemption to the boys from kindergarten through sixth grade, and they participated in school activities with no problem.
Luke Goodrich, a Becket senior counsel, said in a letter to the district that:
The law is clear, and the school district will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if it does not respect these students’ religious liberty. Religious liberty is a fundamental human right, and the school district should set an example for its students of respecting human dignity.
In this day and age, a school should be warm and welcoming toward students of diverse beliefs. But instead these boys have been needlessly traumatized and targeted by the very teachers who should protect them from this kind of bullying.
Becket said it is prepared to intervene in the case and “defend Cesar and Diego’s right to learn and play alongside their classmates” if necessary.
The organisation warned the district:
We have won multiple cases in Texas and the Fifth Circuit under the laws at issue in your case, and we are undefeated in the U.S. Supreme Court. … We strongly urge you to settle this case.