Does school suspension for nose ring violate freedom of religion?
Ariana Iacono is a 14 year old student at Clayton High School outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. When she showed up for the first day of school with a nose piercing, she was suspended for violating the school’s dress code.
Ariana’s nose ring is important to her for a number of reasons including her faith and belief in the Church of Body Modification. Ariana and her mother are members of this small church that has been described as a non-theistic faith that believes in body modification (piercings, tattoos and other physical alterations) as a way to experience the divine. The Raleigh based minister Richard Ivey explained, “Through body modification, we can change how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world.” The church started a couple years ago and has approximately 3,500 members nationwide.
Ariana believes that her First Amendment rights to freedom of religion have been violated. Her school’s dress code policy prohibits several types of facial jewelry, but makes an exception for sincerely held religious beliefs. School officials told Ariana and her mother, Nicky, that the situation would be different if Ariana was Hindu or Muslim.
Ariana returned to school mid-September after the first suspension ended. She wore her nose ring and was suspended again. This time for five days.
Ariana and her mother have contacted the North Carolina ACLU for help. The legal director believes the school may be violating Ariana’s right to free speech and expression and her mother’s right to raise her daughter as she wishes.
If Ariana returns to school with the nose stud again, she could be facing a ten day suspension or a referral to alternative schooling.
Update: On October 6, 2010, the ACLU filed suit in federal court. The documents filed on Ariana’s behalf stated that “This is a case about a family’s right to send a 14-year-old honor student to public school without her being forced to renounce her family’s religious beliefs.” She has missed 19 out of 28 school days this year and her family wants the court to order the school to reinstate her.
On October 8, 2010, Judge Malcolm Howard set a hearing for November 3, 2010. He also ordered that Ariana return to school until the next hearing date. On Friday afternoon, Oct. 8, she was on her way to science class.
Find out more about your rights to wear what you want to school and what restrictions and policies your school can make.