February 2004 Church & State | People & Events

A Muslim student attending an Oklahoma public school has the right to wear a headscarf as dictated by her religious beliefs, Americans United has told school officials.

Officials with the Muskogee Public School District have twice suspended Nashala Hearn, an 11-year-old student at the Benjamin Franklin Science Academy, for coming to school in a hijab, a head covering worn by some observant Muslim females. School officials contend that the scarf violates a school policy that prohibits students from wearing hats, caps, bandannas or other headgear.

In a Dec. 10 letter to school officials, Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan urged the school to reverse its policy. Khan noted that while public schools are not permitted to promote religion, individual students have the right to express their religious beliefs in a non-disruptive way.

"Hearn is simply complying with her religious faith by wearing a hijab; there is no risk that wearing a hijab would threaten anyone in any legally relevant way," wrote Khan.