A public school in Fremont, Nebraska, prohibited a 12-year-old girl from wearing a rosary in class, unleashing a controversy over freedom of religion.

The school says that the ban is due only to the fact that certain gangs use the rosary as a symbol, but the American Civil Liberties Union has intervened in the case, KETV television in Omaha reported Tuesday.

The ACLU says the rosary ban violates Elizabeth Carey's 1st Amendment rights to express her religious beliefs.

Carey received a notice from the Fremont school district in which she was warned that wearing the rosary around her neck violated the school dress code, since it could be interpreted as a symbol of membership in a gang.

"I'm deciding to stand up for Jesus and do whatever I can to stop this," the student told KETV.

"We understand the serious concerns about gangs in schools, but Fremont Public Schools should demonstrate there is a concrete gang connection before shutting down a student's free speech and religious rights," ACLU Nebraska's legal director, Amy Miller, said in a statement.

The Catholic Church also reacted against the prohibition and the chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese, the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, said that Christians should not have to renounce a symbol because gangs make use of it for their own purposes.

However, the superintendent of public schools in Fremont, Steve Sexton, said that the measure had been manipulated to make it into a religious question.

"There are those who want to make this an issue about religion when it's about a singular goal - to create a safe environment for our students," Sexton told the television station.

"If the ACLU has another view we will gladly listen to it, but the fact is, one year ago we were alerted to the fact that wearing the rosary as jewelry had a gang affiliation. We took the position that we did after careful discussion with our attorneys," the superintendent said.

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