AMARILLO, Texas — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an eighth grader at Sam Houston Middle School (SHMS) who was allegedly slammed to the ground by police, lain on until he was left gasping for air, then arrested and held in a detention center overnight—all because he wore rosary beads in memory of his deceased brother to a school football game.
In challenging school officials and police over their treatment of Jacob Herrera, who had to be taken to a hospital as a result of the injuries inflicted by the arresting officer, The Rutherford Institute is asking the superintendent of the Amarillo Independent School District (AISD) to rectify the situation by rescinding the school’s ban on rosary beads, which clearly violates the First Amendment. Pointing out that Jacob did request and receive permission from the school principal to wear the rosary beads to the football game, Institute attorneys have also asked that AISD communicate to law enforcement officials the school’s belief that Jacob not be prosecuted for any of the unfounded charges being levied against him, and issue a public statement that the school district does not support or condone students being physically accosted in the manner Jacob was reportedly dealt with by the arresting officer, particularly where there was no threat of harm posed by the student and he was engaged in peaceful religious expression.
“Whether it’s a grown man placed in a chokehold by police for selling cigarettes, or a middle school student body slammed for wearing rosary beads to a football game, the end result is the same: Americans can no longer take for granted the possibility of peaceful, nonviolent, routine interactions with police,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “It’s our hope that school officials will affirm their support for young Jacob and, in so doing, send a strong message to the community that they will not condone such heavy-handed tactics being used against students on school grounds.”
According to Jacob’s mother, Jacob wears rosary beads given to him by his deceased brother and which have particular religious, spiritual, and sentimental value to him. Jacob is not affiliated with any gang and his wearing of the rosary beads is only an expression of his religious beliefs and his devotion to the memory of his lost brother.
Indeed, the rosary is used in the Roman Catholic faith for prayers to the Virgin Mary and has clear religious significance. Because of its significance to him, earlier this year Jacob sought permission from SHMS administrators to wear the rosary necklace to school. However, Jacob was told he had to wear the rosary inside his clothing during school hours, because rosary beads, while not specifically prohibited by any AISD rule or policy, have been deemed “gang apparel” that is banned under AISD’s Student Handbook. Although Jacob reluctantly complied with the directive that he not wear the rosary beads openly at school, prior to SHMS’s October 29, 2014, football game, Jacob asked the school’s principal for permission to display the beads while at the game and was told by the principal that he could do so.
Nonetheless, while at the game that Wednesday evening, Jacob was approached by a police officer who ordered Jacob to either remove the rosary necklace or leave the property. When Jacob refused due to the principal’s permission, the police officer reportedly slammed him to the ground, laid on him until Jacob was gasping for air, and forcibly arrested the teenager.
Thereafter, Jacob was held in the detention center until following day, when he was released, but is still under restraints of his liberty due to conditions placed on his release by the County Court. In coming to Jacob’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the entire incident might never have happened if AISD’s policies regarding what constitutes gang apparel had not been so unconstitutionally vague.