General Rule: Courts generally find that dress codes which prohibit the wearing of religious
attire or symbols are not a valid means of achieving discipline when weighed against students'
rights to religious freedom and free speech.
How do courts review dress codes that restrict the wearing of religious attire or symbols?
State regulations or school district regulations such as dress codes that affect students' rights
to religious expression are subject to a more rigorous standard of judicial review than regulations
that do not affect such freedoms. For example, a school dress code restricting hair-length
of male students, which might otherwise be permitted, is not a valid means of achieving
discipline when weighed against the religious beliefs of Native American students. 79
Moreover, mere speculation about the possible disruptive effects of a student's dress is not
sufficient to overcome students' right to freedom of expression. As a general matter, school
disciplinary rules need not be highly detailed. However, when those rules implicate students'
rights to religious expression, courts require a higher degree of specificity.
Notably, religious messages on T-shirts and the like may not be singled out for suppression.
Students may wear religious attire, such as yarmulkes and head scarves, and they may not
be forced to wear gym clothes that they regard, on religious grounds, as immodest. 80
Can schools ban the wearing of religious symbols in an effort to stop gang violence? A
ban on gang-related attire cannot restrict the wearing of religious symbols and will not be
upheld where there is no evidence of disruption that justifies infringement on students' religiously
motivated symbolic speech. 81 In general, gang-related prohibitions on dress have
not faired well in the Courts. 82 Indeed, they have been held to be void for vagueness in a
number of circumstances. 83
Jewish Student Wearing Star of David is Suspended for Violating Dress Code
In recent years, North High School has experienced a rise in student violence. Some of
the fights between students have been accompanied by religious slurs. As a preventative
measure, the school board passes a rule prohibiting students from wearing "religious
symbols" to school. Anne, a Jewish student, is suspended for wearing a Star of
David necklace. She appeals her suspension.
Can the school enforce Anne's suspension?
No. The school board does not appear to have sufficient evidence to show that the violence in the
school is due to students wearing religious symbols. Without a causal connection, the school's interest
in preventing violence does not justify infringing on Anne's religious symbolic expression.