Texas court rules in favor of religious exemption for brothers’ long braids

Two brothers in south Texas who hadn’t cut a portion of their hair from birth won a federal religious liberty case against their high school.

The US District Court, Southern District of Texas ruled in favor of Catholic brothers Cesar and Diego Gonzales, represented by religious liberty law firm, Becket, against Mathis Independent School District last Thursday — after Mathis Middle School had banned the brothers since 2017 from participating in extracurricular activities and sports for allegedly violating the dress code.

“After two years of needless bullying of students of faith, it’s now clear that the school district is breaking the law,” Montserrat Alvarado, vice-president and executive director of Becket, said in a statement.

“Cesar and Diego should have a chance to play and learn alongside their friends and classmates without having to give up a central part of their religious identity.”

When Cesar was an infant, he contracted meningitis and became very ill. But his parents made a promise to God that if he recovered, they would allow a piece of his hair to grow forever uncut, something they also promised for Diego.

The practice, called a “promesa,” is commonly associated with Mexican Catholocism, according to the Catholic News Agency.

Rev. Thomas L. Goodwin of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Skidmore wrote a letter confirming that Pedro, the boys’ father, “made a religious promise to the Blessed Mother — Our Lady of San Juan that he would not cut the hair of his children…this promise should be respected by the school system as part of religious devotion and faith.”

Public school officials said the brothers’ hair is a violation of the district’s dress code, which forbids long hair for males.

However, the school district granted them an exemption from kindergarten to sixth grade. Upon entering seventh grade, the boys found out they were no longer allowed to participate in all University Interscholastic Leave (UIL) interschool competition and clubs.

“It is unacceptable to keep children from doing what they love because of their religious beliefs,” said Alvarado. “Mathis ISD should follow the law and respect these students’ religious beliefs.”

The court announced it will issue a more “detailed order” soon. Meanwhile, the two freshman boys look forward to getting back into sports and the activities they were banned from.

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