http://RFRAperils.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/RFRA-perils-logo-smaller.jpg 0 0 admin http://RFRAperils.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/RFRA-perils-logo-smaller.jpg admin2015-06-03 22:07:122015-06-03 22:07:12Jae Wasson, California court rules for feather but not religious freedom, WNG.org
Christian Titman will be able to wear his 5-inch-long eagle feather to graduation.
Titman, a member of the Pit River Tribe, had asked the Clovis (Calif.) High School for permission to wear the eagle feather on his cap during the graduation ceremony. Citing dress code regulations, the district refused. Titman sued the school, claiming a violation of his right to free speech and religious expression. For many Native Americans, eagle feathers remind them of their connection to the Creator.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gregory Frizzel yesterday dismissed Titman’s arguments regarding religious freedom. Frizzel saw the district’s code as religiously neutral under the U.S. Constitution, but he did require the two parties to resolve their differences—and school officials agreed to let Titman wear the eagle feather.
If California had a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the decision might have been different. Eric Rassbach, a Becket Fund religious liberty expert, said lack of a RFRA “takes away an arrow from (Titman’s) quiver.”
California is one of the 29 states without a RFRA law to cover religious belief issues. Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer Jordan Lorence said a RFRA bill is a way to protect all citizens from the power of the government to compel action against their beliefs. If Titman’s lawyers argued using RFRA, they would have had to prove two things: his religious belief is sincere and the interest of the school in his case was not compelling enough to be more important than his beliefs.
Clovis Unified School District argued its graduation dress code maintains the formality of the occasion: no stoles, leis, necklaces, or individual decorations outside of the graduation gown or on the mortarboard. Spokesperson Kelly Avants said the district offered Titman the option of attaching the feather to his cap at the “tassel turn,” which is part of the ceremony but technically a time when the students have officially graduated. Avants said that option honored “the cultural symbolism and intent of the eagle feather.”
Vernon Ward Jr., a Pit River Tribe council member, said the eagle feather is a religious, not just a cultural, symbol: “The eagle is the one that flies highest to the Creator.” For centuries, Native Americans have given eagle feathers to tribal members as a symbol of accomplishment. Ward gave his daughter a feather when she graduated from Foothills High School—and she wore it across the stage.
That is all Titman wanted the right to do. “He would be able to show some honor and respect,” Ward said. With yesterday’s decision, Titman won the right to wear his eagle feather—but the next Native American student in his position will have to fight the same battle.
Matt Campbell, one of Titman’s lawyers, said they relied on California’s “pretty strong free speech reputation.” They lost. RFRA legislation, he said, could have provided “another avenue.”