A teacher’s aide who was suspended for refusing to remove a cross pendant she regularly wore to work has sued the education agency that employs her for allegedly violating her constitutional rights.
As WorldNetDaily reported, officials at ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 in Pennsylvania suspended Brenda Nichol, 43, for one year for refusing to stop wearing the cross, which violates a Pennsylvania Public School Code prohibition against teachers wearing religious garb. The woman is an eight-year employee of the agency.
“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 last month.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest law firm specializing in religious-freedom issues, filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Nichol in U.S. district court in Pittsburgh this week.
“The actions taken by this agency represent a serious violation of our client’s constitutional rights,” said Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel of ACLJ. “The law is very clear on this issue – school personnel do not shed their constitutional freedoms when they enter the school house door. To punish a teacher’s aide for merely expressing her free speech rights is not only wrong, but unconstitutional. We’re confident that the court will correct this injustice and protect the First Amendment rights of our client.”
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.”
According to a statement from ACLJ, the suit names as defendants ARIN Intermediate Unit 28, its executive director and several other supervisors. It contends the actions of the agency violate the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania law, including the state’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. The law firm says Nichol also will file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will pursue charges that the suspension violated federal law.
“There is nothing wrong with Brenda Nichol wearing a cross pendant to work,” said McCarthy. “This is a legitimate desire to exercise her deeply held religious beliefs in a manner that is consistent with both state and federal law.”