Adriel Arocha Wins Case in Federal Court

On July 31, 2010, the ACLU of Texas honored Adriel Arocha
for standing up for his right to freely express his religion.

By Nancy M. Minor, July 12, 2010

Adriel and his parents won a significant legal victory which affects all American Indian school children in Texas. Adriel's victory is also a victory for the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, since it validates our status as an American Indian tribe with members who practice traditional beliefs. We are very, very proud of Adriel, who stood up for his Lipan heritage and his rights as a American Indian.

Here is a little background on the case. When the dispute started, Adriel was a kindergarden student in Needville ISD near Houston. The school district had a dress code and grooming policy. Adriel and his father have never cut their hair and wear braids as an expression of their religious beliefs growing out of their Lipan heritage. The school district demanded that Adriel either cut his braids or wear them inside his shirt. When he refused, they placed him in in-school suspension. If you are getting the picture that the school district was too harsh, well, the courts agree with you. Adriel and his parents had to sue to stop the school district from expelling him and won the case in the Houston Federal Court. The school district appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (the only court higher than the Fifth Circuit is the U.S. Supreme Court). Last week, the Fifth Circuit ruled in Adriel's favor, upholding his victory in the lower court.

This legal victory would not have been possible without the excellent work done by the attorneys at the Indian Law Center, Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law in Arizona. They argued Adriel's case and worked with the Tribe so that we were able to file a brief in support of Adriel. We are thankful for their assistance.

Ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

Before Circuit Judges Jolly, Higginbotham, and Wiener

Circuit Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham: "A Native American boy and his parents challenge a school district's requirement that he wear his long hair in a bun on top of his head or in a braid tucked into his shirt. We agree with the district court that the requirement offends a sincere religious belief and hold it invalid under Texas law...."