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Native American Student Wins Right to Wear Eagle Feather at Graduation

June 11, 2015

On June 2, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California reached a settlement agreement with the Clovis Unified School District on behalf of Christian Titman, a graduating senior who is Native American who wished to wear an eagle feather during the graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 4. He will be allowed to wear the eagle feather in his hair during the entire ceremony and attach the feather on his cap for the traditional tassel turn.

"Christian and his family are thrilled," said Novella Coleman, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "The eagle feather represents Christian's academic achievement and has important cultural and religious significance. It's deeply meaningful that he will be able to wear an eagle feather presented to him by his father during the graduation ceremony."

Christian's family made repeated requests to the district officials over several weeks, asking that that the district allow Christian to wear the eagle feather on his cap during graduation. The district denied each of those requests, and told the family that they would only accommodate the request if they were legally required to do so.

The family then sought the help of California Indian Legal Services (CILS), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the ACLU of Northern California, which sent a formal letter to the district on May 19. The district again refused to accommodate the request. The ACLU, CILS and NARF filed an emergency lawsuit on Monday, June 1 to compel the district to allow Christian to wear the eagle feather during graduation.

"Schools should respect the requests of Native American students who want to wear an eagle feather during graduation," said Coleman. "We're pleased that the district was willing to come to a resolution, although it's unfortunate that previous requests from the family and the ACLU were denied."

As part of the settlement agreement, the district will work with Christian Titman and his family to discuss ways to better respond in the future to requests from students for religious expression during graduation.

State and federal law protect freedom of expression and recognize the religious significance of eagle feathers for Native Americans. California students also have broad free speech rights under the Education Code, and the California Constitution has stronger protections for free speech than the U.S. Constitution.

Sources:  ACLU of Northern California