Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More Hairy Situations

A controversy in rural Texas is brewing over a Native American child who, in accordance with his religious beliefs, wishes to wear his hair long. The local school district refuses to allow males to wear their hair below the collar, and is refusing an exemption. The family is digging in its heels as well:
Meanwhile, Betenbaugh said she is ready to fight the Needville rule and has not considered moving to another school district with a less stringent hair code.

"It would just teach our son that it is easier to roll over and do what you're told and not stand up for your rights," she said.

As I've expressed in other posts, the application of these rules strikes me as simply mean-spirited, and I think a renewed focus on what a just policy would like, rather than arrogant assertions of what a school board has a "right" to do, would improve things all around.

Amazingly, this will be my third post on hair as an element of discrimination law and minority rights. But the incongruity of it, I suspect, stems from the fact that hair just isn't that important to the identity of White Christians -- or perhaps, that to the extent we do care about our hair, any regulations that are passed comfortably encompass the type of stylings White people care about (which helps explain why the hair length restriction applies only to boys, not girls).


Anonymous said...

I continue to be suspicious of claims that particular groups should be given a bye on rules that everyone else has to conform to.

That being said, the larger part of the problem is that there are just too many of these rules. This is 2008, can we get over the hair-battle of my grandparents generation already?

PG said...

I'm strongly in favor of gender-neutral rules, so I find such requirements inherently problematic and subject to challenge on a 14th Amendment and Civil Rights Act of 1964 basis. Gender norms often stem from the majority religion, but explicitly 1st Amendment issues are trickier.

Suppose a prison requires that all prisoners, male and female, maintain very short hair in order to minimize the problem of lice. (I can tell you from experience in India that it's easier to detect and kill an infestation in short hair than in long.) As a judge, I wouldn't think twice about ruling that the prison, once it had shown its problem with lice infestations and the plaintiff could not make a case that the regulation was a pretext for discrimination against minority religions, could maintain such a rule even with regard to Native American, Sikh and other religious persons whose faiths mandate long hair or not cutting beards.