Federal judge upholds Indiana students’ right to wear Wiccan symbols

Monday, May 1, 2000



INDIANAPOLIS — Two student teachers have a First Amendment right to wear a pentagram while working because it is a symbol of their religion, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge S. Hugh Dillin ruled on April 27 that Elwood High School seniors Brandi Lehman and Shauntee Chaffin can return to work wearing the five-pointed stars.

“No one testifying at the preliminary injunction hearing related a single disruption caused by the pentagrams,” Dillin wrote.

The two had sued the Elwood Community School Corp. after they were dismissed from a junior-teaching program for wearing the pentagram, a symbol of their religion, Wicca. Wicca is an ancient, nature-based faith rooted in paganism.

“It's hard for anybody to stand up for their beliefs, especially in a case where there's so much publicity, but this was a clear violation in our minds,” said Jacquelyn E. Bowie, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case.

The father of Brandi Lehman said on April 28 that his daughter was “overjoyed” by the ruling.

“I haven't seen her this happy in a long time. She's on cloud nine,” said Kenneth Lehman. “To her this is one of the greatest things that could have happened.”

The school system can appeal the decision, but that probably would not be resolved until after the students graduate this spring. Edward B. Alley, the attorney representing Elwood schools, declined to comment on the judge's ruling.

“She did the best thing she could have done, she sought out a lawyer and took it to the courts,” Kenneth Lehman said of his daughter. “The school taught her a lesson in one of her classes about individual rights, and she decided to take them up on what she was taught.”

Lehman, 17, and Chaffin, 18, said they were forced to leave their posts as student teachers at Edgewood Elementary School after officials told them to stop wearing the pentagrams in their third-grade classrooms. They said they were told teachers objected to the symbol because they felt it was satanic.

The school district said problems with the girls started when they were confronted about making personal copies of Wiccan materials on the elementary school's copy machines. But Dillin determined there was not enough evidence to prove the students abused any rules.