Policy protects religious symbol, Waxahachie school chief says
Dallas Morning News, Sep. 12, 2002
By SCOTT PARKS / The Dallas Morning News
The Wiccans won Wednesday in Waxahachie.
Waxahachie public school Superintendent Bobby Parker ruled that Rebecca Moreno, a ninth-grader, can wear her pentacle necklace in full view of her classmates.
“While the Wiccan faith may not be the majority religion in our community, our board policies protect all faiths,” Mr. Parker said in a letter to the Moreno family.
Mr. Parker also agreed to erase Rebecca’s prior suspensions and agreed to recommend that the school board review its dress code to ensure that it doesn’t restrict religious expression or free speech.
Rebecca, 15, practices Wicca, a pagan religion that mixes witchcraft, multiple gods and goddesses and nature worship.
Wiccans say the pentacle, a five-pointed star inside a circle, is as important to them as the cross is to Christians. Banning the pentacle necklace from school, they claim, violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and religion.
School officials suspended Rebecca twice because she insisted on wearing her pentacle, which is about the size of a quarter.
The Morenos contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in Dallas. Michael Linz, a Dallas lawyer who handles ACLU cases for free, now represents the family.
Last week, school officials allowed Rebecca to return to Waxahachie High School as long as she did not wear the pentacle outside her clothing.
Waxahachie school policy classifies jewelry that features the pentacle, swastika and drug-oriented symbols as potentially disruptive. School officials contended they could bar such symbols on a case-by-case basis.
School officials said they never banned the pentacle on religious grounds. Instead, they banned it in 1997 because the 5-pointed star, or pentagram, became associated with animal sacrifice and devil worship.
“The result was a distraction and disruption at school,” Mr. Parker wrote.
Wiccans say they don’t worship the devil. The faith, they say, originated in pre-Christian Europe and mostly revolved around ceremonies at the changing of seasons.
Mr. Linz, the family’s attorney, praised Mr. Parker for reversing the school district’s position on the pentacle.
“I was pleased,” Mr. Linz said. “The superintendent’s opinion is what I had hoped for.”
Mr. Parker’s decision retained one caveat, however. He said Rebeccawill be allowed to wear her necklace “so long as it does not cause a disruption in the educational environment.”
Laura Moreno, Rebecca’s mother, said she thinks Mr. Parker’s decision ends the legal controversy.
“I don’t think it will be a distraction to anybody,” she said. “Rebecca is excited and relieved that this is over.”
Rebecca will wear her pentacle in the open Thursday, her mother said.