Officials at a high school in Loveland, Colorado, reportedly confiscated a rosary belonging to Manuel Vigil, a 16-year-old student who had worn the Catholic prayer aid as a necklace. The school contends that the rosary is somehow is affiliated with gangs and disruptive to learning.
Vigil, a junior at Thompson Valley High School, claimed that school administrators offered no explanation when they twice seized a rosary from him since the school year started three weeks ago. KDVR television news was told by the student, "They tell me I can’t wear them," adding that he wears the rosary to protect himself from harm.
"I use them for prayer. I feel safe when I have them on," he said.
School officials say that wearing the rosary is not safe. "That’s typically not what we want for a safe environment for school," Thompson Valley School District spokesperson Margaret Crespo told the television station. She said that the school offered the student two options before confiscating the his rosary. She claimed that school administrators had asked him to take the rosary from around his neck or conceal it under his clothing. Crespo claims that Vigil was told, "You’re not giving us an alternative than to remove it." Vigil claims he was not offered any alternatives, and would have concealed it under his shirt if given the option.
"It wasn't consistent with what would normally be a rosary, and because of that we felt like it could be gang-related," principal Mark Johnson said, according to a Loveland Reporter-Herald story. "There was no punishment; we just removed it." The rosary in question has sequences of 13 beads, whereas Catholic rosaries typically have sequences of 10. Each bead in the sequence of 10, a 'decade', is counted off when a prayer to the Virgin Mary is recited. Other prayers recited when using a rosary is the Lord's Prayer or Pater Noster. The Loveland newspaper quoted Police Sgt. David Murphy, who reportedly said that the sequence of 13 beads was troublesome since the number 13 is associated with the Sureños gang.
A Denver Post editorial opined that the school district may have gone too far in its enforcement of rules designed to minimize the influence of criminal gangs. "The Loveland school administrators who banned a high school student from wearing rosaries in school think they're justified because they're acting to suppress gang-related activity. We're not so sure they're on firm legal ground. While the courts have generally sided with schools that enact dress codes to tamp down gang activity, they haven't been as inclined to do so when it comes to rosaries. That's because restricting the wearing of rosaries runs smack into the constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion. A pertinent question in the Loveland situation is whether the rosaries in question are truly religious items."