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United Houma Nation Student Suspended For Refusing to Cut His Hair

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Seth Chaisson, was suspended March 15 from Juban Parc Junior High School in Denham Springs, Louisiana, because he has repeatedly refused to cut his hair.

The 13-year-old United Houma Nation student keeps it long for religious and cultural reasons.

According to “Traveling The Spiritual Path: The Struggle For Native American Religious Freedom,” by Laura Brooks, long hair is an integral part of the ceremony necessary for Native spiritual expression.

On March 15, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana stepped in., writing a letter to the schools principal stating the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedoms. After getting no response from the school, the ACLU filed formal appeal on Seth’s behalf on March 18. In it, the ACLU demanded the disciplinary actions be reversed and that his record be cleared.

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“Everyone, including junior high school students, is guaranteed the right to practice his or her religion,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman in the ACLU press release. “Schools may not discriminate against a student whose religion is not that of the majority. In fact, the schools have an obligation to protect students from religious and other forms of discrimination.”

According to the Associated Press, Ed Foster, supervisor of child welfare and attendance for the Livingston Parish School System, had scheduled a meeting with Seth’s mother, but wouldn’t discuss the situation further.

According the ACLU, Louisiana law protects religious practices.

“Preventing a Native American from wearing his hair long is like preventing a Christian from wearing a cross,” Esman said in the ACLU release. “The law protects all faiths, including that of Seth Chaisson. Seth should be commended for his courage in standing up for his religious beliefs and cultural heritage.”