When Schools Ban Rosaries

April 21st, 2011
Photo © Alan Creech | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

I recently ran across an article about a high school student in St. Louis who was suspended for five days because he wore a rosary to school. The reason for the suspension, according to the school system, was violation of the school’s anti-gang dress code.

There’s more wrong than right with this picture. First, why would a kid be suspended for wearing something as benign as a rosary? And for five days? I didn’t get in that much trouble when I tried to take an airplane bottle of Jack Daniels to show-and-tell in Kindergarten. (Long story, but quite innocent. I did get into trouble that year for spitting, lying, and fighting, but surprisingly not for having alcohol at school. My, how times have changed.)

I’m sure gangs somewhere have adopted rosary beads as part of their “uniform”. But I’ve worked with at-risk youth, including gang members, and I’ve seen as many rosaries on kids who aren’t in gangs as I’ve seen on kids who are. Over the past couple of years, rosaries have been particularly trendy with Hispanic males. So not only does a rosary ban seem to target Catholics, it also appears to single out an entire ethnic group. And this kind of stuff goes on all the time. A kid in my youth ministry had his red shoelaces confiscated because the color red had a “gang connection.” Yet his high school’s primary color was red! The Keystone Kops would be proud.

So is this how it works? Law enforcement connects an article of clothing to gang activity, and we ban it in the public schools? Are we willing to give gangs that much power? Some might argue that the recent trend of using a rosary to make a fashion statement had its origin in gangs, but so what? Do we really believe that within a school, gang members aren’t smart enough to know who's in which gang without color coded accessories?

No wonder so many kids want to drop out of public school. At least in Catholic School, they don’t freak out about a rosary.


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