A school district in New York has agreed to a payment of nearly $25,000 for slamming a student's rosary by calling it "gang-related beads," according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
The organization had brought the dispute to officials at Oneida Middle School in Schenectady, N.Y., after they banned the rosary, classifying it as gang-connected.
The district earlier had changed its policy, but the case brought on behalf of student Raymond Hosier couldn't be resolved because of the issues of liability and damages.
The agreement for the payment of attorney's fees and other issues now can allow the case to conclude, officials said.
In a blog report on the case, the organization reported the middle school student was suspended for wearing a rosary to school.
"Now, a final point in this case – a federal district court judge has signed off and approved a settlement agreement calling for school officials to pay nearly $25,000 in damages, legal fees, and costs and to expunge the record of Raymond Hosier, our client in the case," the report said.
"What's encouraging is that this court-approved agreement …comes just weeks after school officials in Schenectady changed a discriminatory policy that prohibited students from wearing the rosary to school," the ACLJ report said. "We're delighted that this settlement agreement puts a period on what can only be viewed as a compelling victory for the First Amendment rights of students. "
The case developed last May when the student was suspended indefinitely for wearing the rosary by officials "wrongly claiming it was a gang symbol."
"We notified the school district by letter that such action violated Raymond's constitutional right of free speech and requested that corrective action be taken. The school district rejected our request to settle the issue without court action and, in June, we filed a federal lawsuit," the report said. "The court immediately issued an injunction clearing the way for Raymond to return to school for the remainder of the year without fear of further punishment.
"This case send an important message to other school districts, too – reminding them that the constitutional right of students to express their free speech does, indeed, apply in the school setting," the report said.
The case was brought on behalf of the student and his mother, Chantell. It explained Raymond wears the rosary to express his faith in God and honor the memory of a deceased uncle and a brother who died with that very rosary in his hand.
The complaint also explained Raymond is not a member of any criminal gang and does not wear his rosary to promote gang membership or violence.
In fact, the complaint said, "R.H. is not a member of any criminal gang. R.H. does not wear his rosary to advocate or promote gang membership or violence. R.H. is not aware of any gangs whose members wear a plastic rosary made of light-colored purple beads and a white crucifix as a gang symbol."
The complaint explained Raymond had been wearing the rosary since September 2009 without causing "any disruption to the school environment." The policy change resolved that part of the case, the ACLJ said, but it continued because "the defendants retaliated against Raymond for filing his original lawsuit to secure his constitutional rights."
The amended complaint alleged that a school dean approached Raymond when he returned to school following a court order allowing the rosary and ordered him to detention.
"If you want to play the insubordinate game, we can play, too," the dean said, according to the lawsuit.
School officials also "wrote up" the student for alleged violations more times in the month following May 17, in the wake of his original complaint, than in the entire school year up to that point.