Courts uphold piercing, religious plates
Whitney Jones, Religion News Service
October 13, 2010

Courts uphold piercing, religious plates

Courts uphold piercing, religious plates
Whitney Jones, Religion News Service
October 13, 2010

Two federal courts have

issued strong defenses of religious expression in two separate decisions, one

involving a teenager’s nose piercing and the other a license plate.

Ariana Iacono, a freshman at

Clayton (N.C.) High School, was allowed to return to class on Oct. 8 after

missing more than four weeks of school for wearing a small nose stud that violated

the school dress code.

The American Civil Liberties

Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Iacono, claiming that the school was

violating her right to religious freedom as a member of the Church of Body


“We are thrilled that Ariana

can return to her studies,” said Nikki Iacono, Ariana’s mother, in a statement

from the ACLU. “She has missed 22 days of school already this year because the

school has wrongfully forced her to choose between her education and our family’s

religion. Ariana was an honor roll student in middle school, and she is eager

to get back to her classes and continue with her education as soon as possible.”

The Iacono family belongs to

the Church of Body Modification, which believes rituals such as tattoos and piercings

are essential to spirituality and connect followers to the divine.

The emergency court order by

U.S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard will allow Iacono to attend school while

the lawsuit continues on the constitutional questions raised by her case.

Meanwhile, the 2nd U.S.

Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a lower court decision that

supported a Vermont statute that prohibited religious messages on vanity

license plates.

Shawn Byrne of West Rutland

applied for a personalized license plate with the letters and numbers “JN36TN”

referring to the Bible verse John 3:16. A month later, the DMV denied his

application because the message was “deemed to be a combination that refers to

deity,” according to a statement from the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed

suit on behalf of Byrne in 2005.

DMV officials had earlier

allowed “GENESIS” and “CREED” on vanity plates as long as they refer to musical

groups and not biblical allusions, and “GODDESS” and “BUDDHA” were acceptable

as a reference to a nickname.

“Christians shouldn’t be

censored from expressing their beliefs while others are freely allowed to

express theirs,” said David Cortman, senior counsel at Alliance Defense Fund. “The

2nd Circuit rightly concluded that it’s unconstitutional for the government to

decide that car owners can only identify who they are and what they believe on personalized

plates if their identity and beliefs are nonreligious.”