How unfortunate. Apparently gangs have adopted this Catholic prayer tool as “part of their look”, so educators and public safety officials consider rosaries to be one more marker to track suspicious activity. And many schools have banned students from wearing them.
Recently this case in Oregon received nationwide attention:
Never did Jaime Salazar imagine that wearing a rosarylike crucifix to school would provoke a national stir.
But when the 14-year-old and his 16-year-old friend Marco Castro were suspended recently for refusing to remove the religious beads because they were “gang-related,” it thrust Oregon into the headlines and has triggered questions over the evolving role of rosaries in religion, fashion and street gangs.
Rosaries are not necklaces, and are not meant to be worn as such. But what one of the boys was wearing was apparently a crucifix, which is meant to be worn around the neck.
In Albany, Salazar said he knows exactly what a rosary is, and that’s not what he was wearing. It was a baby blue, beaded crucifix, he said, that makes him think of his mother.
Salazar said his problems began Feb. 15 after breakfast when Principal Chris Equinoa asked him to put away the crucifix, which he was wearing as a necklace.
“He told me it was a rosary, and it was gang-related,” said Salazar, who now carries the crucifix in his pocket. “I told him ‘No, it’s not a rosary. It’s a necklace and it’s Catholic.’ ”
When Equinoa asked him to go to the office, Salazar said he went home. Later, he received a letter notifying him he was suspended for five days for defiance and gang-related behavior.
Marco Castro did not return calls for comment, but he told the local Albany paper that Equinoa approached him Feb. 14 about his rosary, a white string of beads with a cross and an image of the Virgin Mary. He put it away but wore it the next day, then refused to remove it. He was suspended for three days.
More to the story?
Officials at South Albany High School, where Salazar and Castro returned to school last week, said policy prevents them from offering details about the suspensions.
“There’s more to the story, but because the boys are minors, we can’t talk about it,” said Jim Haggart, assistant to the superintendent for the Greater Albany Public School District.
I really don’t want to dwell on this one particular case, wherever the truth lies.
I just think schools are too heavy handed when it comes to these sorts of anti-gang fashion edicts.
Several years ago, bandanas became popular for girls to wear on their heads for the first time since I was a girl. I thought it was a cute trend, as there were many colors and designs to choose from, and it was a always a good choice for those bad hair days. Well, before long, the school put an abrupt end to the bandana trend by banning them because they were “gang related”. My oldest daughter was in the third grade at the time. Her little sister was in kindergarten. I don’t know how little K-6th grade school girls in a fairly conservative suburb could ever be confused with being gang members, but that was (and still is) the policy. And it’s silly.
Surrounded by rosaries at The Rosary Shop in McMinnville, shop owner Seth Murray is troubled by the idea of such a sacred symbol associated with gangs.He said public officials should focus on behavior, not rosaries.
“If someone is engaged in violence, it doesn’t matter whether they’re wearing a rosary,” he said. “You should not seek people out for that reason.”
I’m with that guy. And this guy, too, (even if he is from the ACLU):
David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon says educators should proceed with caution. Their intentions may be valid, but they run the risk of violating students’ rights, he said.
“When it comes to restricting any form of expression, school officials have a pretty high bar to cross,” he said. “They better have very specific evidence that’s more than just a hunch.”
Again, rosaries are not even meant to be worn around the neck, and most people who do it are doing so to make a fashion statement. But I’m not sure that it’s the school’s place to take a position on its usage. And it would help if school administrators could tell the difference between a crucifix and a rosary. They are most certainly impeding on a student’s religious rights by banning the wearing of a crucifix.