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Cross-wearing woman fights suspension

A Pennsylvania woman is vowing to fight a one-year suspension she received for refusing to hide or remove a cross necklace she wore to work as a public-school teacher’s aide.

Brenda Nichol, 43, of Indiana County says she will fight the punishment in court.

“I got suspended April 8, 2003, for wearing a cross to work and not being willing to either remove it or tuck it in,” she told the Indiana Gazette.

Officials at ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 say Nichol’s refusal to stop wearing the cross violates a Pennsylvania Public School Code prohibition against teachers wearing religious garb.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest law firm specializing in religious-freedom issues, will go to bat for Nichols in court.

Nichols, an eight-year employee of the educational-service agency, says she has been aware of the prohibition since 1997. She says she recently was threatened with suspension twice.

“I am doing a lot of praying at this time,” she told the Gazette. “I think the public needs to know that there is a code out there that is against our freedom.”

Crosses and Stars of David are examples of prohibited jewelry under the state’s law on public schools, according to Dr. Robert H. Coad Jr., executive director of ARIN.

According to the ARIN handbook, employees may wear a cross or other religious jewelry as long as it cannot be seen by others.

Of the regulation, Nichol said, “I could not follow that code in my heart. I could not deny Christ.”

ACLJ lawyers were surprised at the severity of the rule.

“I can’t think of one (case) like it that goes so far into the First Amendment,” Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel for ACLJ’s northeast office, told the Gazette.

McCarthy says the law group may file a lawsuit as early as this week.