By Mark Sweet, ESQ

Most people understand that the First Amendment provides a person with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to peaceably assemble, and freedom of the press.  The focus of this story is on a person’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion.  Here, Ariana Iacono attended school with a nose piercing.  She was suspended because her nose ring violates the school system’s dress code (no facial piercings).  She (and her mother) claim that this prohibition against having a nose ring violates her right to practice her religion.

She belongs to the Church of Body Modification.  The church has a small congregation, a statement of beliefs and a formal process for accepting new members.  They believe that they can gain spiritual insight through piercings, tattooing and body modifications.  The church is non-theistic and has about 3,500 members nationwide.

Whether you think the church is silly or not, the problem for the school district is that they make an exception to their rules.  The exception states that a person can have a facial piercing if it is for religions reasons.  Iacono argues that if she was Hindu and had a nose piercing that she would be permitted to keep the piercing in.  She claims that under her First Amendment rights, she is exercising her religious beliefs that are truly held.

Part of the test to see if there is a violation of a person’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion is that they hold a sincerely held belief.  The school argues that there is no violation of her First Amendment rights because they have a neutral school wide dress policy (which is legally allowed). Iancono argues that the school is judging her religion as lacking merit.

Further hurting Ianocono’s claim is that in 2002 a woman sued Costco because she was fired for her eyebrow ring.  She belonged to the Church of Body Modification and had a sincerely held belief.  However, the court ruled that her religious beliefs did not require her to always wear her jewelry.  The same argument could be made for Iancono, since she could remove her nose ring.

 What do you think, should she be allowed to wear a nose ring? Are these arguments silly? Does it matter what a person’s religion is?

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