Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

These rights guaranteed under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution do not come with age limits.

Students have the same constitutional rights on school property as they do off. However, conflict can arise when defining those rights. Recently a situation at Junction City High School resulted in students exercising their freedom of speech and their right to peaceably assemble when they believed a school administrator denied a fellow student’s religious freedom.

“Students may engage in private religious speech, and they may wear religious garb … to the degree that it's not, in other ways, prohibited by school policy,” said Angela Stallbaumer, assistant executive director for legal services with Kansas Association of School Boards.

The American Civil Liberties Union states that while schools can establish dress codes, students have a right to express themselves.

“Dress codes are all too often used to target and shame girls, force students to conform to gender stereotypes and punish students who wear political and countercultural messages,” states the ACLU website. “Such policies can be used as cover for racial discrimination, by targeting students of color over supposed “gang” symbols or punishing students for wearing natural hairstyles and hair extensions. Dress codes can also infringe on a student’s religious rights by barring rosaries, headscarves and other religious symbols.”

In regards to dress codes, school districts have discretion to adopt those policies. Students don’t have a right to be exempt from them, provided the policies are religiously neutral, Stallbaumer said.

“The main key there is that your policies directed at the wearing of certain religious garb may not be upheld, if they were challenged,” she said. “If the things students are wearing are disruptive to the educational environment, or their legitimate safety or health concerns or something like that, then the school district may have a compelling governmental interest in in stepping in and regulating that.”

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