A middle school teacher in Tennessee has apologized for forcibly taking a cross necklace from a student during a book fair.
The child was said to be confused and embarrassed when the teacher ripped off his necklace in front of his classmates, says a letter from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which specializes in constitutional law and First Amendment cases. The child’s parents had appealed to the ACLJ, which promptly sent a letter to Hixson Middle School, a public school near Chattanooga.
“The student was operating within the school’s rules when he wore the cross necklace and had no reason to think that there would be any disciplinary consequences for exercising his constitutional rights,” said the letter. “Our client was singled out and humiliated in front of his classmates for wearing this cross necklace.”
As a result of the letter, the teacher, vice principal and community superintendent apologized to the student and his mother.
However, the school is no stranger to controversy.
In March, a student was charged with making threats of mass violence after admitting to planning “a Nashville at Hixson Middle School,” Fox Chattanooga reported. No further information was released because the student is a minor.
It’s more important than ever that students and parents understand their constitutional rights while attending public schools, the ACLJ says, because teachers and administrators often try to suppress freedom of religious expression.
“The right to persuade or advocate a religious viewpoint is one of the reasons the First Amendment was adopted, and private religious speech is no different than any other expression,” said the ACLJ. That means schools have no more power to interfere with “a student’s rights to evangelize, assemble, pray, and write about their faith in assignments” than any other branch of government.