N.Y. School District Changes Its Anti-Rosary Policy

A school district in New York has decided to eliminate a policy that prohibited students from wearing rosary beads following a months-long battle with a Christian legal group.

The decision from the Schenectady school district followed a suit filed by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on behalf of then-seventh grader Raymond Hosier challenging the constitutionality of the no-rosary policy.

"This policy change represents a critical victory for religious freedom as well as our client and all students in the school district," said ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow in a statement Thursday. "It's our view that this discriminatory policy violated our client's constitutionally protected rights of free speech and free exercise of religion."

About three months ago, the ACLJ took up the case of Raymond Hosier after the teen was suspended from Oneida Middle School in Schenectady, N.Y., for refusing to take the beads off or tuck them in his shirt.

While Hosier said wearing the rosary brings him comfort and honors the memory of his deceased older brother and uncle, a school administrator at Oneida said the rosary was in violation of the district's blanket policy on beads, which has been in place for a few years now due to the connection that some beads have to gangs.

"Beads are one method that gangs use to identify each other," Superintendent Eric Ely had explained to a local NBC news affiliate back in May.

"We certainly understand any youngster's desire to commemorate something, but we also understand our need to maintain a safe environment," he added.

ACLJ, in response, filed a federal lawsuit in June on behalf of Hosier and his mother, Chantell. In the complaint, the ACLJ contended that Hosier wears the rosary to express his faith in God and honor the memory of a deceased uncle and a brother who died with that very same rosary in his hand.

The complaint also asserted that Hosier is not a member of any criminal gang and does not wear his rosary to promote gang membership or violence.

Furthermore, ACLJ noted that Hosier had been wearing the rosary since September 2009 without causing "any disruption to the school environment."

Days after filing its lawsuit, the ACLJ secured a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from a federal court that cleared the way for Hosier to wear the rosary to school for the remainder of the year and then an order extending the TRO until September.

Though school district lifted its ban on the wearing of the religious beads Wednesday, ACLJ said removing the discriminatory policy does not bring an end to their lawsuit.

"We stand ready to resolve the remaining issues – liability and damages – either outside or inside the courtroom," Sekulow reported.

The ACLJ will, however, request that the federal district court cancel the preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Sept. 8 because of the amended policy and the fact that Hosier is attending school in a different school district this year.

"It's clear that our lawsuit resulted in an important change of school policy," Sekulow stated.