Victory For NC ACLU In Body Piercing Case

Ken AshfordConstitution, Local Interest2 Comments

Honestly, I think the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU has only one attorney, Kathleen Lewis Parker (who I crossed paths with last year when a friend's daughter was barred from creating a gay student organization at a local high school).

The NC chapter of the ACLU is a good organization, but woefully underfunded.  So it can't do all the good things it would like to do.

But it is nice when they have successful moments.  Today, they got a nice win:

RALEIGH, N.C. – A federal judge ordered a North Carolina school to admit a 14-year-old high school student suspended for wearing a nose piercing she says is part of her religion, and the teenager was headed to science class Friday afternoon.

U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard announced his decision allowing Ariana Iacono to return to school during a hearing Friday.

"We are thrilled that Ariana can return to her studies," her mother, Nikki Iacono, said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union. "Ariana was an honor roll student in middle school, and she is eager to get back to her classes and continue with her education as soon as possible."

A call to Nikki Iacono by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

The ACLU file a lawsuit Wednesday claiming school officials violated Iacono's constitutional religious liberty rights. The freshman has been suspended repeatedly since classes started four weeks ago. She and her mother, Nikki, claim the nose piercing is part of their faith, not a fashion statement.

The Johnston County school system has a dress code banning facial piercings, but allows for exemptions based on religious beliefs.

Ariana and her mother belong to a church called the Church of Body Modification, which sees piercings and tattoos as religious devotion. The church has 3,500 members nationwide and was incorporated in Pennsylvania in July 2008.

Personally, I would have liked to seen this case won on free speech grounds, rather than religious freedom grounds.  It's not like the piercing was to such a degree that it created a distraction to other students.


On the other hand, what was pretty ugly about the case was that the school officials made Ariana and her family have to defend their religion — having to prove that it was a bona fide religion and that they were truly members of that religion.  Can you say "religious test" anyone?  (The full allegations are in the complaint here - PDF).

Now, the judge's order is only temporary, but it's still a big win.  She'll go back to school, the world will not come to an end, and she will presumably win the full case (unless, of course, the school decides to drop all disciplinary action).