Tri-Valley Herald, Juy 6, 2003
A teachers’ aide suspended without pay for a year for wearing a cross necklace at school will return to work temporarily while a judge considers whether to permanently overturn her suspension.
Brenda Nichol was removed from a school in Penns Manor after refusing to cover up or remove a 11/4-inch cross.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab’s injunction lifted the suspension by ARIN Intermediate Unit 28, which supplies teacher aides and other services to public schools in two Pennsylvania counties.
ARIN said its rule kept employees from wearing any item that could be objectionable to others, including emblems of occult religions.
But Schwab said the rule against employees wearing religious garb was unconstitutional and Nichol would likely win the challenge to her suspension. The agency’s policy is overtly averse to religion, the judge wrote, because it punishes only symbolic expressions with religious content and permits employee jewelry containing secular messages or no messages at all, Schwab wrote.> In 1990, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a Muslim teacher in Philadelphia who sought to wear traditional garb. The court said preservation of religious neutrality in public schools is a compelling state interest.
Schwab said that ruling, even if constitutional, wouldn’t apply to Nichol because she was not a state employee.
The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, represented Nichol.