A religious liberty law firm is warning a Texas school district it will clearly lose its lawsuit if it continues to exclude two boys who are entering the 9th grade this fall from extracurricular activities – including playing football and sitting on the student council – because of the length of their small braids of hair that their parents promised God not to cut in a pact.
“The Mathis Independent School Board prohibits boys from participating in extracurricular activities if their hair is longer than collar-length, but the Texas Association of School Boards requires districts to ‘accommodate requests for exceptions based on a student or parent’s sincerely held religious belief,’” Becket Law Spokesman Montse Alvarado maintained, according to WND.
Unflinching promise keepers
Despite being sued in May 2018 by attorney Frank Ray Gonzales of Corpus Christi, Texas, on behalf of the Gonzales family, the Mathis Independent School Board (MISB) will not relent in keeping the boys from the school activities they love. Now, Becket Law – on behalf of both boys, Cesar and Diego Gonzales – is warning the district in a letter that “the law is clear” it will lose its case in court by continuing to prohibit the boys from extracurricular activities.
“A religious promise to keep a small strand of uncut hair shouldn’t ban school children from catching touchdowns or participating in student council meetings,” Alvarado argued. “The school board should give these boys a chance to be active in the sports and clubs they love – not only because the school would lose miserably in court, but because it is the right thing to do.”
In the face of opposition, the parents remain faithful to their promise to God made nearly 15 years ago, and their sons are committed to wholeheartedly honor that vow.
“When Pedro and Belen Gonzales’ eldest son, Cesar, was an infant, he contracted a very serious illness, [and] longing for his recovery, Pedro and Belen made a religious promise that if their son’s health improved, they would keep a strand of hair on the back of his head uncut as an expression of faith and gratitude,” Becket recounted in its summary of the case. “After Cesar recovered and their second son, Diego, was born, the family continued the practice as a deeply important and personal part of their religious faith. As they grew older, both boys continued to keep a small strand of their hair uncut, committed to living out their family’s sacred practice.”
Now, both boys are suffering for honoring their parents’ vow before God.
“The boys were banned from all University Interscholastic League (UIL) interschool competition in sports and clubs, which meant they couldn’t play on the football team or travel with the robotics team,” Becket explained, according to WND. “Cesar’s grades even began to suffer when he was excluded from band performances – a core part of the academic band grade.”
Until the boys reached 7th grade, the district accommodated the boys without cutting their hair.
“Although the school’s dress code forbids male students from having hair past the collar, the school district granted an exemption to the boys from kindergarten through 6th grade, and they participated in school activities with no problem,” Becket noted, according to WND.
Cesar – the oldest son – understands that his Christian faith does not call for him not to cut his hair, but he wants to honor the promise his parents have made to God.
“Now, [Cesar] considers the promise to be his to keep – as well as theirs – and if he cut the hair, he would disappoint Jesus or get punished,” the court documents state, according to MySouTex.com.
The younger brother also understands the spiritual significance of the vow.
“Diego testified that his braid represents his faith in God,” the Texas daily informed. “He said it started out as his parents’ promise, but it became his, as well, and breaking the promise would be a sin.”
However, Cesar concedes that if his parents didn’t make the vow or retracted it, he would snip his braid in a heartbeat to get on the football team.
“Cesar testified that it was his parents that made the promise when he was sick as a child, but if they took back the promise, he would cut his hair and play football,” MySouTex.com’s Paul Gonzales noted.
Follow the law, stop bullying, or pay …
Becket Senior Counsel Luke Goodrich warned the district in a letter that the law is on his legal team’s side if it decides to continue excluding the boys, which he and his nonprofit organization consider as a form of bullying.
“The law is clear, and the school district will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if it does not respect these students’ religious liberty,” the letter states.“Religious liberty is a fundamental human right, and the school district should set an example for its students of respecting human dignity. In this day and age, a school should be warm and welcoming toward students of diverse beliefs, but instead, these boys have been needlessly traumatized and targeted by the very teachers who should protect them from this kind of bullying.”
In a nutshell, Becket is telling the district to relent or lose.
“[We are prepared to intervene in the case and] defend Cesar and Diego’s right to learn and play alongside their classmates [if necessary],” Becket informed the district, according to WND. “We have won multiple cases in Texas and the Fifth Circuit under the laws at issue in your case, and we are undefeated in the U.S. Supreme Court. … We strongly urge you to settle this case.”
In its letter, Becket urged the district to just do the right thing.
“The boys in this case should be commended – not punished – for devoutly keeping a religious promise for over 14 years,” the letter concludes. “And the district should fully respect their religious practices. The law demands no less.”