“Sincerely Held Religious Belief”

The term “sincerely held religious belief” is a common occurrance in the majority of the research I have been doing into previous cases where schools or prisons have gotten into disagreements over the length of one’s hair or the wearing of certain clothing items. That exact grouping of words was uttered by Mr. Rhodes at our meeting on June 9th. He stated that we had to give evidence of a sincerely held religious belief  in order for our son to be allowed to attend school with his braids intact.

 Obviously he did not believe that we sincerely believed that our son’s hair was a religious matter since we are now at “Level Three” with our complaint. So, how does one go about proving a sincerely held religious belief  if one’s belief system was handed down by word of mouth? Would having a “holy book” per say even be enough evidence to prove that our belief in this matter is sincere?

 I don’t know really, I was raised in a Christian church and I’ve seen plenty of Bibles but that certainly does not mean that I sincerely believe everything written in them.

 So, lets look at the words themselves. How are they defined? I used www.dictionary.reference.com to find the following definitions and I did cut out severel of the entries for “hold” as they did not apply to this particular usage.


–adjective, -cer·er, -cer·est.
1. free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; earnest: a sincere apology.
2. genuine; real: a sincere effort to improve; a sincere friend.
3. pure; unmixed; unadulterated.
4. Obsolete. sound; unimpaired.

[Origin: 1525–35; < L sincérus pure, clean, untainted]

sin·cere·ly, adverb
sin·cere·ness, noun
1. frank, candid, honest, open, guileless; unaffected.
1, 2. false.
–verb –verb (used without object)




20. to remain fast; adhere; cling: Will this button hold?
21. to keep or maintain a grasp on something.
22. to maintain one’s position against opposition; continue in resistance.
25. to remain attached, faithful, or steadfast (usually fol. by to): to hold to one’s purpose.















to restrain; check; curb.




to keep at a distance; resist; repel.




to postpone action; defer: If you hold off applying for a passport, you may not get one in time.

47. hold on,

a. to keep a firm grip on.
b. to keep going; continue.
c. to maintain, as one’s opinion or position.
d. to stop; halt (usually used imperatively): Hold on now! That isn’t what I meant at all.
e. to keep a telephone connection open by not hanging up the receiver: The operator asked us to hold on while the number we’d dialed was being checked.
re·li·gious     [ri-lijuhs] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation adjective, noun, plural -gious.
1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with religion: a religious holiday.
2. imbued with or exhibiting religion; pious; devout; godly: a religious man.
3. scrupulously faithful; conscientious: religious care.
4. pertaining to or connected with a monastic or religious order.
5. appropriate to religion or to sacred rites or observances.


6. a member of a religious order, congregation, etc.; a monk, friar, or nun.
7. the religious, devout or religious persons: Each year, thousands of the religious make pilgrimages to the shrine.

[Origin: 1175–1225; ME (< OF) < L religiōsus, equiv. to religi(ō) religion + -ōsus -ous]

re·li·gious·ly, adverb
re·li·gious·ness, noun
—Synonyms 2. reverent. Religious, devout, pious indicate a spirit of reverence toward God. Religious is a general word, applying to whatever pertains to faith or worship: a religious ceremony. Devout indicates a fervent spirit, usually genuine and often independent of outward observances: a deeply devout though unorthodox church member. Pious implies constant attention to, and extreme conformity with, outward observances. It can also suggest sham or hypocrisy: a pious hypocrite. 3. devoted, unswerving, meticulous.
—Antonyms 2. impious.
1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.
3. confidence; faith; trust: a child’s belief in his parents.
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: the Christian belief.

[Origin: 1125–75; earlier bile(e)ve (n. use of v.); r. ME bileave, equiv. to bi- be- + leave; cf. OE geléafa (c. D geloof, G Glaube; akin to Goth galaubeins)]
—Synonyms 1. view, tenet, conclusion, persuasion. 2. assurance. Belief, certainty, conviction refer to acceptance of, or confidence in, an alleged fact or body of facts as true or right without positive knowledge or proof. Belief is such acceptance in general: belief in astrology. Certainty indicates unquestioning belief and positiveness in one’s own mind that something is true: I know this for a certainty. Conviction is settled, profound, or earnest belief that something is right: a conviction that a decision is just. 4. doctrine,






So, a genuinely maintained conviction appropriate to religion or to sacred rights or observances would mean a sincerely held religious belief. Well, that still does not tell me how to prove anything. At least I got a nice vocabulary lesson out of it I guess.

The question remains, how do you prove something that you cannot touch or feel or see? Sure I could show someone photos of religious ceremonies or religious items but you can’t show someone religion itself. Again, do they want us to do a rain dance on the front lawn? Would it prove anything? I see now why so many people just give in and cut their children’s hair. Its easier just to take it then to fight what seems to be an impossible battle.
 I’m stubborn though. Maybe sometimes too stubborn for my own good but in this instance I don’t sincerely believe so. This fight is for my son. For his right to grow up immersed in his culture and our right to raise him as we see fit.




3 Responses to ““Sincerely Held Religious Belief””

  1. Someone Sympathetic to your Situation Says:

    The School rules state that hair on boys “must not cover the ears” or “touch the collar.” What if you were to place your son’s hair in a bun ? It would be pulled back, neat and would not touch the collar. I’ve seen photos of Native American men wearing their hair in buns, so it is not just something that girls wear. Seriously, what could the school district do at that point ? It is following their rules to the letter and let’s your son keep his long hair. Fight on sister !

  2. Annette Says:

    I just saw the Fox News report online about your problem. FYI I found out about this through the LiveJournal anthropology community.

    What Fox reported the school district as saying on the matter is complete BS.

    1) I doubt very much that they’ve never had this matter come up before. Really, in the whole district they’ve never had even one Siek student in 25 years?

    2) Insisting on a “passage from scripture” is simply an attempt to demean less powerful cultures with the assumption that only written scriptures are real scriptures, and only a culture obsessed with written records is a culture worthy of respect.

    Whoever gave you this line seems to be confusing “sincere” with “concrete” or “measurable”. This is a problem of the legal system in that it is not a post-modern institution and is very stubborn about staying that way.

    Besides, Christianity tends to burn every record of previous cultures as soon as it gets there so even if there had been written scriptures they’d be long gone. (I’ve just had an enormous amount of trouble completing an assignment on Norse religion this month for this very reason.)

    I suggest you get in contact with the anthropology department of a local university (preferably left-leaning) and ask for somebody dealing with cultural issues to do with your particular kinship group or tribe. Cultural anthropologists can be very nice and helpful with these sorts of things, and you’ll also be adding to their own store of knowledge because these sorts of problems are exactly what they study.

    They’ll more than likely have some documentation on your specific group that will be of help. If it has to go so far as to going to court they can probably provide an “expert witness” or put you in contact with one. Possibly even have contacts for the right sort of legal representation for you too. Since the school district has admitted to a weakness for written documentation then hopefully some academic papers will satisfy or scare them off pursuing the matter any further.

    Good luck with your fight.

  3. Annette Says:

    Also, I can’t help but think that this emphasis on formal documentation as proof of “sincerely held belief” can be deconstructed as simply a trick of words.

    Let’s put it this way, the dominant power structure insists that the only information that can be taken seriously must be presented in the form of tangible, measurable materials such as written scripture. In this case though, they are asking for measurable physical proof of an invisible inner state of being, the truth of which only that individual can ever possibly know.

    The braids themselves do not rate as such evidence according to the school. Why is that? Because they can be misinterpreted (as they have been) to indicate a desire to cause trouble and dissent. The Bible can be misinterpreted and to the same effect, eg. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Therefore in this context, scriptures are evidence of nothing but themselves.

    As I’m sure you’re aware there are plenty of insincere Christians out there, and some who are so sincere that they are downright dangerous.

    Can you imagine if they put the same burden of proof onto every school kid who wants to wear a cross around their neck? Photographic evidence taken by an impartial observer of the child and his/her family attending church every Sunday? – one that has been approved of and acknowledged by the school district. Can you imagine the uproar? Comparisons to Nazi Germany would abound. But since you are a minority they know they have the power to completely disrupt your lives and finances with expectations well beyond what would be asked of a member of the dominant group.

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