Jabez and the First Amendment

Jabez Oates is a four-year-old boy who was excited to start his first day of Pre-K. His mother Jessica was shocked to learn that the Barbers Hill Independent School District would not let him attend school, because he is a boy with long hair. (You can read more about Jabez’s story in Newsweek, Huffington Post, and several other outlets).

Last week, my colleague Joshua Thompson and I informed the school district of the legal problems of its ban on boys with long hair. For example, the ban violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. As we told the school district in a letter:

[T]he school district’s actions violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects not just words, but also conduct that’s sufficiently communicative. In one case, a Houston-based federal court held that a school district’s policy that required a Native American child to cover his braids violated the Free Speech Clause. The court found that the policy was unconstitutional because it burdened more speech than necessary to promote the school’s stated interests of promoting order, discipline, and hygiene. The same can be said of [the school district’s] policy here.

You can read the rest of the letter here and another blog post about this issue here. Let’s hope the school district decides to do the right thing, and allows Jabez the opportunity to go to Pre-K and meet his new friends.

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