Written by Don Byrd
An Oklahoma school district has reversed course and will now allow students who are Cherokee tribal members to wear a ceremonial eagle feather during graduation ceremonies in May. After barring feathers in previous years, efforts by the Cherokee Nation to persuade school officials were by apparently aided by a letter from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter explaining his belief that state religious freedom laws require public schools to accommodate student requests to wear ceremonial feathers to graduation.
School officials agreed to “do what the attorney general tells us to do.”
A federal court in 2016 ruled that banning eagle feathers at a graduation ceremony did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. But state law provides broader protection, Hunter said.
“Based on my understanding of Cherokee spiritual practices,” he said, “prohibiting students from wearing ceremonial eagle feathers on their graduation caps would substantially burden their free exercise of religion under [the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act].”
“It’s a religious practice,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The graduation ceremony will move forward and, we believe, without disruption. In fact, it will be enhanced by members of the community being allowed to express their religious sentiments.”
Cherokee Nation has more information and perspective in a news release issued earlier today.