LINCOLN, Neb. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska is welcoming new support in a lawsuit challenging a Nebraska school district for cutting two girls’ hair in violation of their family’s traditional Lakota beliefs.
Attorneys with the Harvard Law School Religious Freedom Clinic, Josh McDaniel and Kelsey Flores, filed court paperwork Wednesday to join as co-counsel on the lawsuit, supported by students Lulu Chua-Rubenfeld and Ali Nayfeh. The ACLU of Nebraska will continue serving as lead counsel.
The case centers on a Cody Kilgore Unified Schools employee cutting two minor children’s hair without parental permission during school lice checks, even after their parents asked the school to stop and asserted their religious beliefs. As Lakota tribal members affiliated with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the family believes hair is a sacred symbol and that it should only be cut under certain conditions.
The ACLU of Nebraska filed the lawsuit on behalf of Alice Johnson, Norma LeRoy and their children in May 2021. In Nov. 2021, the judge hearing the case said claims focused on racial discrimination and free exercise of religion should move forward — a decision that caught the attention of the team at Harvard.
Religious Freedom Clinic Director Josh McDaniel said the case is a natural fit for the Clinic, which allows Harvard Law students to provide pro bono support in First Amendment religious freedom cases.
“We are proud to team up with the ACLU of Nebraska on this important case. As a Clinic, we are committed to protecting the religious rights and traditions of people of all faiths — especially those with misunderstood or marginalized beliefs.”
ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Mindy Rush Chipman said she welcomes the Clinic’s involvement.
“It is well established that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate. Our clients have a right to exercise their religious beliefs and cultural heritage at school and they also have a right to an education free of racial discrimination. We’ve been doing everything we can to achieve justice for our minor clients and their family, and this support will help us greatly in these efforts.”
Plaintiffs Alice Johnson and Norma LeRoy shared the following statement on behalf of their family.
"We are so pleased to have the Harvard Law School Religious Freedom Clinic join our counsel. We feel this is a move in the right direction to protect all babies. We pray Tunkasila guides our legal team in the right direction and that people understand the need to respect others’ religions, cultures and traditions."
The case remains in discovery, an information sharing process that comes before trial.