MATHIS – The Gonzaleses out of Mathis took another victory on Oct. 22 in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals against the Mathis Independent School District. The court ruling allows both boys to continue extracurricular activities at MISD without having to cut their long braids they’ve had since childhood.
In Gonzales v. Mathis Independent School District, brothers Cesar and Diego Gonzales had been barred since 2018 from playing on their school’s football team or participating in academic clubs. The Gonzales brothers leave a small part of their hair uncut and braided as a religious promise, or promesa.
On Jan. 9, 2018, Cesar and his parents, Belen and Pedro Gonzales, filed suit in state court asserting claims under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution stating that the hair was a religious right.
The case was then moved to federal court.
In September of last year, a federal court decision granted the family’s request for a religious accommodation allowing participation in extracurricular activities while the case proceeds as MISD attempted to get the case thrown out over a technicality.
Becket, a religious freedom law firm, was helping the Gonzales family last year with their Vice President and Executive Director Montserrat Alvarado saying, “It is unacceptable to keep children from doing what they love because of their religious beliefs. Mathis ISD should follow the law and respect these students’ religious beliefs.”
The Gonzales family won that case, but MISD filed an appeal and continued to try and get the case dismissed stating that Belen didn’t add Cesar to the case within the 60-day window she had to do so.
According to court documents, the district court found that when the family was notified that both brothers were barred from all extracurricular activities, the Gonzaleses believed that MISD was only concerned with Cesar’s participation in football, not other activities such as band and science club that have academic consequences and did not have time to provide 60 days’ notice before filing suit.
The court filings read:
[Gonzales]: The things that occurred with C.G. happened in the beginning of the school year, and with D.G., that’s when it happened in the December month. So after, you know, getting with our attorney and the holidays and stuff getting out of the way, that’s when everything was addressed.
[MISD counsel]: Okay. And so you knew at the time when you filed this grievance that both your children were going to be denied extracurricular activities, right?
[MISD counsel]: And this grievance was filed more than 60 days prior to the time that you filed your suit, correct?
[Gonzales]: I believe so.
In MISD’s view, this testimony bars C.G. from claiming he did not have time to provide pre-suit notice.
Court documents stated that in the case of Cesar, the district court’s conclusion that there was not “time to reasonably provide 60-day notice” was plausible in light of the record as a whole.
The court ruled in favor of the Gonzales family stating, “We affirm the district court’s preliminary injunction as to C.G. and vacate the preliminary injunction as to D.G.”