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Court rules against South Texas school district in religious braid case

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) –  A South Texas family gets a partial victory in a religious freedom lawsuit against a school district.

The Mathis School District has barred Cesar and Diego Gonzales from extracurricular activities because they each have one long, thin braid in violation of the dress code. The family says it’s a sign of faith. The boys’ parents made a “promesa,” a lifelong promise to God since the boys were infants.

When older brother Cesar was a baby he got very ill and his parents promised God that if he got well, they would leave a strand of hair on the back of his head uncut as a sign of faith. He got well and they have kept their promise. They carried on the practice when their son Diego was born less than a year later.

Thursday, a federal court granted the family’s request for a religious accommodation, which allows Diego Gonzales to participate in extracurricular activities while the lawsuit proceeds. A ruling on a request for a temporary injunction for Cesar is expected next week.

“After two years of needless bullying of students of faith, it’s now clear that the school district is breaking the law,” said Montserrat Alvarado, vice president and executive director at Becket, a law firm in Washington, D.C. that specializes in religious freedom.

He says the Mathis Independent School District “should stop this foolish fight and do the right thing.”

Although the school district’s dress code forbids male students from having their hair past the collar, the boys were granted an exemption from kindergarten through sixth grade and they participated in school activities with no problem. However, when they entered seventh grade two years ago at Mathis Middle School, Diego and Cesar were told their religious practice would no longer be accommodated. The boys are now freshmen at Mathis High School.

“It is unacceptable to keep children from doing what they love because of their religious beliefs,” said Alvarado.


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