James Herndon, a practicing Wiccan, plans to return to class with makeup, (photo: San Bernadino Sun)
A California high-school student who practices Wiccan beliefs says his rights have been violated after being suspended this week for wearing lipstick and makeup.
“If I can’t wear makeup, then the girls or the staff can’t wear makeup either,” 16-year-old James Herndon told the San Bernadino Sun, believing his constitutional right to free expression is being violated.
He says the cosmetics help him express his neopagan religious beliefs in the supernatural, which he shares with his mother, Valerie Wallace, a Wiccan priestess.
“After my divorce from his father, he became very depressed, and wearing the makeup makes him feel good,” Wallace said.
Herndon, who is repeating his sophomore year, has reportedly been wearing the black lipstick and red eye makeup the entire time he’s been attending Pacific High School. He also sports a red mohawk hairdo, though that was not cited as a reason for his five-day suspension.
While campus officials say James’ makeup is a violation of policy, they had a hard time locating it in writing, unable to cite any reference to makeup in school regulations or the California Education Code.
They tied the suspension to the dress code in the student handbook, which notes if clothing “creates a safety hazard … or when the dress constitutes a serious and unnecessary distraction to the learning process or tends to disrupt campus order,” the student is in violation.
Lynda Savage, a San Bernardino City Unified School District board member, told the paper “without knowing all the details, my gut reaction is to support the principal. We don’t suspend students just because. I suspect this student was a distraction to other students. We bend over backwards to provide our students better educational choices. I think this student needed to make a better choice.”
But the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union disagrees, believing codes protecting freedom of expression and guarding against gender discrimination seem to have been violated.
“High school is the time where many students are expressing themselves and really finding themselves and so to suspend the student is such a severe punishment it’s wrong,” said ACLU staff attorney Christine Sun. “It’s wrong not only as a legal matter, but it’s not good policy.”
James plans on wearing the makeup when he returns to class on Monday.
“My son shouldn’t change the way he is,” his mother said.