Cross Necklace Case Settled-Teacher’s Aide Back at School
- 2003 29 Aug
In a victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression, a teacher's aide in Pennsylvania is back at work, with every right to wear the cross pendant that became a center of controversy last spring. The American Center for Law and Justice reached a settlement agreement with an educational agency in Western Pennsylvania that suspended Brenda Nichol for wearing a cross pendant to school. The settlement agreement makes permanent a preliminary injunction issued against the agency in June that reinstated Mrs. Nichol to her former position with back pay.
This is a very important victory upholding the constitutional rights of our client who merely wanted express her faith outwardly by wearing a small cross pendant on her necklace. She is back to work and we are working now to ensure that she will never again face this type of religious discrimination in the school system. We were convinced from the beginning that the suspension was not only wrong, but unconstitutional, and we're pleased that the initial ruling of the court which supported our position is now permanently in place. This is a resounding victory for our client and for the First Amendment as well.
The ACLJ filed a federal lawsuit in May on behalf of Mrs. Nichol, who works as an Instructional Assistant in the Penns Manor Area Elementary School in Clymer, PA. She was suspended for one year without pay after refusing to remove a one-and-a-quarter inch cross pendant that she had been wearing on her necklace. The suit contended that the actions of the agency, ARIN Intermediate Unit 28, were unconstitutional. The agency said its policy was based on a state religious garb prohibition dating back to 1895.
In June, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Schwab granted the ACLJ motion for preliminary injunction saying the state garb statute did not apply, but if it did it would be unconstitutional. The court concluded that ARIN's policy displays "hostility toward religion" and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The court ordered Nichol to be reinstated to her former position with back pay and benefits pending final disposition of the case at a hearing for a permanent injunction.
The ACLJ and ARIN have reached a settlement in the case and have agreed to make the preliminary injunction permanent. A joint stipulation to that affect was filed with the federal court.
Details of the settlement include: the removal of any reference to this incident from Nichol's employment record, that she remains at Penns Manor, and that ARIN remove from its policy any reference to rules prohibiting dress or jewelry that has religious significance. The ACLJ was assisted in this case by attorney Joseph L. Luciana, III of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, LLP in Pittsburgh.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm specializing in constitutional law. The ACLJ is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and its web site address is www.aclj.org.