A Native American student in California filed an emergency lawsuit Monday against his high school for barring him from wearing an eagle feather at his graduation ceremony. He is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Christian Titman, an 18-year-old student of Clovis High School near Fresno, and a member of the Pit River Tribe, alleged that the school district violated his rights to freedom of expression and religion under the California constitution by refusing to allow him to wear the feather for the upcoming ceremony on Thursday.
"The eagle feather is not only a signature of my tribe but it also represents the pride I have for my tribe, my people and my heritage," Titman told the Fresno Bee. "When I have feathers on I'm connected with ancestors before me."
According to Titman, his father and grandfather wanted to present him with the feather at his graduation. For this, he and his family made repeated requests to the district authorities but their requests were turned down, the ACLU of Northern California said, in a press release.
“Clovis already allows California Scholarship Federation and National Honor Society accessories during the graduation ceremony. It should be no different for Christian to wear a feather as a symbol of his academic accomplishment,” Novella Coleman, an ACLU staff attorney, said, in the release.
However, Clovis School District spokeswoman Kelly Avants told Reuters that the ban is not new and that it conforms to the school district's policy of barring students from wearing non-academic accessories to maintain uniformity in the graduating class. She added that Titman had declined offers to receive the feather along with his diploma or to wear it during parts of the ceremony.
Meanwhile, in a letter to Titman's attorneys, Superintendent Janet Young said that the district followed a strict graduation dress code, which showed "respect for the formality of the graduation ceremony, unity of the graduating class, and also to avoid disruption of the graduation ceremonies that would likely occur if students were allowed to alter or add on to their graduation cap and gown," the Associated Press reported.
According to Young, the district follows a dress code that does not favor any particular religion, and does not permit students to wear stoles, leis, rosaries or necklaces on graduation caps and gowns. Titman, however, would be allowed to wear the eagle feather after the ceremony and while taking photos with the school principal, she said.
Titman is seeking a court order that would allow him to wear the feather and a declaration that the district cannot prohibit religious symbols or insignia at graduation. Titman's attorneys have asked for a hearing on Tuesday, two days before the graduation.