Tommy DeForest, Cullman, Alabama (2007)

Tommy DeForest was a student at Good Hope High School in Cullman County, Alabama who wanted to wear the patka, the headcovering required by his Sikh faith, to school without fear of government reprisal.    But the school barred him from attending school with his patka, citing its “no hats” policy.

The Becket Fund intervened with a letter to the superintendent and argued that forcing a student to chose between his religious convictions and receiving a public education violates the constitutionally guaranteed right to free exercise of religion. We pointed to the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment to Alabama’s constitution which says that the “[g]overnment shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

While the principle behind a no hats policy in public schools may be a fine one, it should not restrict the religious freedom of students, be they Jewish, Sikh, or something else. The school backed down, and Tommy was able to return to school and continue practicing his Sikh faith.

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