Rosaries forbidden in a school because they are “gang signs”.

For your Just Too Dumb file:

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A 15-year-old Coon Rapids student says he wears a rosary as a necklace to feel close to his grandmother, who is suffering from breast cancer. But the Anoka-Hennepin School District told him to take the rosary off – or face the consequences.

Jake Balthazor says he prays for his grandmother’s health.

“She has breast cancer, and I’m trying to support her for it,” he said.

He wears his beliefs proudly. The rosary is one his grandmother gave him, but it’s also what landed him in the principal’s office.

“They think it’s like a gang sign,” Balthazor said.

A district spokesperson said the school asked Balthazor not to wear the rosary as a necklace again, saying policy forbids it.

The district’s student discipline policy forbids “any apparel, jewelry, accessories, or matter of grooming which by virtue of its color arrangement, trademark, or any other attribute (as a primary purpose) denotes membership in an organized gang.”

Balthazor’s family finds the school’s stance baffling.

“I don’t know how anything with the church can be affiliated with a gang,” said Balthazor’s father, Dave Thompson. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Balthazor’s rosary wearing might also not make sense to many Catholics. He wears the rosary as a necklace, which is unusual. Moreover, Balthazor isn’t Catholic, he’s Lutheran; but those close to the family say they understand why he wears it.

“The rosary brings people closer to Christ,” said Bob Balk, who owns St. George Catholic Books and Gifts with his wife, Sharon.

“It represents faith on her part and his,” Sharon Balk said.

Balthazor’s grandmother goes in for surgery Thursday.

“His opinion is: If he’s wearing it, Grandma’s going to be OK,” Thompson said.

Balthazor said he plans to wear his rosary to school Thursday, but says if he’s asked to take it off, he’ll put it in his pocket.

UPDATE: The communications director for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Mary Olson, said they were unaware that Balthazor wore the rosary to honor his grandmother. Olson also shared a letter they received last month from the police liaison about rosaries being used as gang signs. [So, rather than ask, they assumed the worst.] The letter states, “A new issue came up recently that is interesting regarding rosary beads. Some gangs do use them as clothing symbols. The gangs identified around here that have been using them are the Latin Kings and the Surenos.” Olson said she understands that Balthazor did wear the rosary to school on Thursday and is currently in finals. She said the school plans to talk with him to try and work out a compromise.


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  1. samorsot says:

    Sadly, gangs are using the Rosary as a gang sign. Hip Hop has taken what was meant to be holy and sacred and turned it into a mockery. Most kids who wear them sadly do not even know what it is, or is used for. So that being said, I understand the School’s position, although, they should have asked the young man about it, rather than assuming that it was a gang sign. It shows great ignorance on their part.

  2. Philangelus says:

    Actually, I agree with what the school did. The kid should wear the rosary under his shirt if he wants, but rosaries have become gang signs recently. My brother is a cop and tells me he sees it all the time. He’ll strike up a conversation with the kids too. “So, you pray the rosary a lot, huh? What’s your favorite mystery? Hey, can you remind me how to say the Hail Mary?”


  3. BaedaBenedictus says:

    They were handing out rosaries as souvenir gifts at a preview screening of a grisly exorcism horror movie that came out earlier this year. The movie was called “The Devil Inside” and the title was stamped on the pouches holding the rosaries. Still haven’t figured out what to do with mine—have it blessed according to the old rite (including the exorcisms)?

  4. APX says:

    I work in community corrections, and yes, Rosaries are being used by gangs now. While the kid in the story has good intentions (though it sounds like he’s using it for superstitious reasons), knowing what I know about gangs, the issues of coordinating reporting appointments so that there aren’t “incompatibles” in the office at the same time, it’s in this kid’s best interest and safety to keep his Rosary in his pocket. The last thing anyone wants is for this kid to get shot, stabbed, or curb stomped because he was wearing what gang members consider “their symbol”. We’re talking about people who will cut off someone’s gang membership tattoo because they no longer are part of the gang. These aren’t your rational elite individuals yiu’re talking about.

  5. Moro says:

    I disagree with the school, but nobody should be wearing a rosary. Period. It’s not jewelery. Carry it in your pocket or bag, pray with it, etc. but please don’t use Our Lady’s gift to us as a piece of jewelery.

  6. acardnal says:

    Sadly, it has become a gang sign. I like the way Philangelus’ brother, the cop, interrogates the rosary-wearers. Brings to mind those who hang the beads over their car’s rear-view mirror. Sometimes I tease those drivers with the same type of questions. For many, they think of it as a good luck charm, but they have know idea that it is meant to be used in prayer or how to pray the rosary. THAT’s where the grace comes from!

  7. Jeff says:

    I have to agree with everyone above. Not to mention, look at how it is now being used as a “good luck charm”: “His opinion is: If he’s wearing it, Grandma’s going to be OK”.

    That is not how we are supposed to be treating the Rosary. Why not instead of wearing the Rosary, he pray it? That would get much more accomplished than just wearing it. Its the typical “as long as I show up and appear to be Christian, I’m alright”.

    Acardnal: I have a small Rosary that I hang on my window. I do pray the Rosary on (an almost) nightly basis though.

  8. kab63 says:

    I had never heard of a rosary used as a gang symbol, so I googled around. From what I can tell, someone (ie, no one) started this as an urban legend in the 80’s. Schools picked up on it and started stopping kids in the halls in the 90’s. Court cases ensued. Word got around that a rosary has 1st Amendment protections, and gangs started to actively adopt (and adapt) the rosary to be a gang symbol. What a sad, sorry history. Our Mother is always at work, though, regardless of the wearer’s intentions. I pray she can change hearts.

  9. jasoncpetty says:

    This fad is crazy and I hope it stops soon. For fear of being associated with the gangs, I quit wearing my Rosary as a necklace and just started wearing my monstrance-hat or backpack made from an enormous Third Order Carmelite scapular (O.C.D. WUT WUT!) to school instead. Can’t wait for tax-free weekend, mom’s getting me my new kicks for next year.

  10. acardnal says:

    @Jeff: In most states it is illegal to hang something from your mirror if it blocks your vision of the road. Philangelus’ brother, the cop, can probably tell you that. Whether it’s rosary beads or dice or garters or . . . . Best to put the rosary in your pocket and pray it and not to think of it as a good luck charm. I do use a rosary ring while driving. Much safer.

  11. anilwang says:

    Shesh. Gangs also use watches. Why not ban this type of jewelry as well? Gang members also wear pants, why not ban those as well?

    Rosaries, watches, and pants cannot be considered gang signs precisely because there are an order of magnitude more people who use these who are not a part of a gang than are. So these “signs” don’t distinguish you as anything special.

    Of course, it might be a non-Catholic neighborhood and the gang members happen to be Catholics. But if they’re profiling Catholics, they should at least be honest about their bigotry rather than hide behind “I’m just following orders”.

  12. Scott W. says:

    Switch to scapulars. :D

  13. ajbasso says:

    @Kab63, I can assure you that gangs, or rather one in particular, does use the rosary as a sign. I remind my students regularly, there’s a lot of information out there that you just can’ t find on google.

  14. silicasandra says:

    @Moro: Wearing something does not, necessarily, turn the object worn into a mere piece of jewelry. I wear a Miraculous Medal but it’s not “just jewelry” to me. My son has a wooden bead rosary that I occasionally wear around my neck so he can finger the beads while I nurse him – it is a good way for me to teach him a devotion I hope he will treasure when he is older.

    I think there is something to the point that as a non-Catholic this boy has attached a kind of superstition to the wearing of the rosary, but still, it is sad that the school reacted the way they did (I used to be a public school teacher and I am surprised at how often news from schools features teachers and administrators who apparently never think to ask students why they do things. Sometimes the information is not useful, or students lie, but more often it provides insight that can help address the problem.)

    I wonder, too, that even if he did have it in his pocket and it had been seen there, that the school might have interpreted it as trying to “outsmart” the administrators about his gang affiliation.

  15. Elizabeth D says:

    I am always bothered when I see people wearing rosaries like necklaces. I generally don’t know their specific motivation but my impression is that they are regarding it as jewelry, as a fashion accessory. In at least some cases it has seemed apparent they (protestants) regarded it as a cross necklace, that they wore as a sign of Christian faith. Sometimes I have tried to question people about whether they understood a rosary is not a necklace, that it is prayer beads and to Catholics it is not appropriate to use as a fashion accessory, or if they knew how to pray the rosary, generally people seemed surprised and unhappy to be questioned about it. There is a need for Catholics at least to be familiar with the prayer of the rosary. We are never SEEN praying the rosary, so I think the active cultural knowledge of what this is, is just not there now. Maybe I should not be shy to pray the rosary on the bus, I often pray the Liturgy of the Hours on the bus and the rosary in some ways would be an easier bus riding prayer.

    There is a portrait reportedly drawn from life of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, who died homeless in Rome I think in the 18th century, wearing a rosary around his neck. He actually prayed the rosary and doubtless had it there to keep it handy, perhaps he did not have pockets.

  16. ajbasso says:

    anilwant, it’s not about the item itself, but rather how it’s worn or displayed. I never leave the house without my rosary, but it’s in my pocket, not around my neck. Gangs also use something as simple as a color – does that mean that every student that wears yellow or red or blue to school should be suspect? No, but it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

  17. Scott W. says:

    P.S. And if the school district comes up with a lame excuse like here for banning those, keep holy cards in your hands all the time. If they ban that, walk through the school with a bottle of holy water and sprinkle the walls….we got plenty of sacramentals….:)

  18. anilwang says:

    Jeff, people don’t explain themselves well and since we don’t know his heart, so its a bit presumptuous to assume he sees it as a good luck charm.

    All we know is, he wants to rosaries to be publicly displayed (and not hidden), and he believes that Our Lady will care for his grandmother (or at the very least his grandmother’s spirits will be greater so her chances of surviving will also be greater). Care doesn’t necessarily mean cure, but even if he does believe she will be cured, we don’t know the basis of that belief. He might have felt Our Lady called for an act of faith.

    Remember also, that there are several aspects of the Catholic faith that look like superstition to outsiders such as miraculous medals, the brown scapular, and going on pilgrimages for feeling.

  19. kab63 says:

    @ajbasso Forgive me if I wasn’t clear: Rosaries are gang symbols NOW, yes. In the 1980’s rosary-as-gang-symbol was an urban myth. Do you have evidence from that time period that would refute my google finding? Please share if you do. Court cases seem to have begun in the 1990’s, but were against faithful Catholic kids wearing the rosary to school. It is only after that when actual gang usage appears to be documented.

    @anilwang I didn’t know this, but apparently gangs who use rosaries now have them made to certain color specifications. The beads represent gang colors, or beads use highlighted colors to represent the gang hierarchy. I don’t think a regular rosary would be mistaken for a gang rosary by anyone who looked closely. However, the rosary is useful to gangs because of the First Amendment. No one can claim that his wristwatch represents freedom of religion.

  20. Burke says:

    The wearing of the rosary around the neck is very common in Poland & other Eastern European countries … a lot of the Polish lads who came over to Ireland to work wore them … I was surprised at first, but got used to it … they weren’t being disrespectful, it was simply one of the customs of where they came from … though it does sound like in the US the practice has little to do with religion, going on what has been described above …

  21. acricketchirps says:

    Oh, I see… I thought it meant that they thought Catholics were an organized gang. Catholics…. organized…. (snort!)

  22. Analogously, almost, I remember being accosted in Manhattan in the 1980s because of the Roman collar. A gang used clergy shirts and collars. Yikes!

  23. PostCatholic says:

    Imagine the religious backlash when tin foil hats become gang signs…

  24. edm says:

    I am a teacher. In the town where I work rosaries worn around the neck, in various colors DO denote gang membership. It is a FACT. We have been told we cannot forbid their use, which is exactly why gangs use them as IDs, but we ask the students to wear them under their clothing. It is a sad, sad, thing to see them used in this way.

  25. Hidden One says:

    As has occasionally been mentioned in this thread, there are cultures in which wearing the rosary around one’s neck is a matter of devotion and if you study the lives of certain Saints you will find the same. Fellow commenters, stop categorically denouncing the wearing of the rosary around the neck (by non gang members) as a matter of wearing jewellery. Just stop. For some it is; for some it isn’t. You are painting with too broad a brush, and I am not sure even that your real targets need another coat of paint.

  26. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Maybe somebody can get him an “Abusus non tollit usum” tee-shirt…

  27. Michelle F says:

    I think a sacramental, even if it is not blessed, still can be a vehicle of grace. Perhaps we should pray that Our Lady converts every gang member and general non-Catholic who is wearing her Rosary!

  28. moon1234 says:

    One more reason to never put your kids in the public indoctrination camp, errr school system.

  29. FrJLP says:

    Where I am in Florida, the rosary-as-necklace is a popular gang sign for Latino gangs…especially those originating in Puerto Rico. I agree with the bans in schools because 1) we don’t want to allow gang signs to proliferate, and 2) because an innocent wearing it for good intentions, like the young man in MN, could be mistaken by one gang as a member of the other. Better safe than sorry. And the school can’t be safe just asking: “Oh, is that rosary a gang sign, young lad?” Do you think a gang member would say “Yes, Mr. Principle; I am a member of Latin Kings.” Nope. Unfortunately, I think that the ban is very justified.

  30. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Sigh. Hasn’t anybody here seen “For Greater Glory” or any of the old movies about the Spanish missions? People in those countries, like people in Poland and many other countries, often wear rosaries around their necks because it is the custom. It is the custom because, for hundreds of years (and maybe still today) they got an important indulgence for doing it! Why was there an indulgence from the Church for it? So people would have their rosaries right at hand!

    And yes, many people in those countries regard wearing rosaries in much the same light as wearing scapulars or Miraculous Medals. There’s no guarantee, but it’s a sacramental and provides a certain amount of protection from evil and from other bad stuff. If you are liable to be in danger, your loved ones are particularly anxious that you wear it. There are countless stories about bad stuff happening to people who scorn wearing it, or people who wear their rosaries being miraculously saved by Mary’s’ intercession.

    And yeah, sometimes even criminals and other bad people are in the habit of wearing a rosary, probably because their mother gave it to them or their grandmother begged them to do so. They may not really care to learn the prayers, but that doesn’t mean they have no right to wear it. It’s probably become a sign of Hispanic-ness, by default, so there may be that. And the general use of colors by gangs has probably led some gangs to color-coordinate, if only so that nobody will use Grandma’s different-colored rosary as an excuse for blowing somebody away. But they’ve probably still got Grandma’s rosary on them somewhere, if they have grandmas to have rosaries from.

    Catholics need to understand other Catholics, even other bad Catholics. And Mary has always had a notorious soft spot for bad Catholics, ignorant Catholics, and non-Catholics who don’t really know what they’re doing. So I’m not going to advocate depriving today’s twerps of the Marian favors out of nowhere that saved the butts of patristic twerps, medieval twerps, and twerps of all previous Christian ages. As I hope for mercy and grace and have been grateful to receive it, I pray that it comes to others.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: patristic — Obviously they didn’t have the Rosary back then. But they did have plenty of stories about Mary saving butts of the desperate, doomed, bad, and crazy. Give Mary an inch and she will take a continent.

  32. Suburbanbanshee says:

    And of course an unblessed rosary isn’t a sacramental, but a blessed one is. And even somebody who sadly has only an unblessed rosary usually has a crucifix on it, which is not to be sneezed at. Give Jesus an inch and He’ll take the whole universe of you.

  33. Scott W. says:

    Also, don’t forget the sacramental they can’t take away: the sign of the cross. Unless they chop your arms off. (I know, don’t give them any ideas.)

  34. I disagree with the school, but nobody should be wearing a rosary.

    Tell it to the Dominicans, who wear rosaries on their belts as part of the habit.

    I wore a rosary around my neck while I sat for the bar exam. I wore it for consolation, and as a way of asking for divine assistance during a time when I was very stressed and couldn’t be praying. Of course, before going in, I also prayed the Rosary, and even got a priest to give me a blessing. (And I passed.)

  35. gambletrainman says:


    You mention clothing as belonging to gang (or drug) members. Of course. That’s where wearing the baseball cap with the visors on the back of the neck came from. Also, as far as pants, I’ll be willing to “bet” that wearing the pants so low has something to do with gangs or drugs. I see the guys wearing the pants so low, I feel the urge to sneak up behind them and give one good yank.

  36. Dies Irae says:

    Hahaha! I go to church three to four times a week, in a neighbor hood with lotsa gangs. We get all sorts of funny stuff, people begging for money for gas to drive their Corvette to California to visit their twelve children who are all dying, people with meth teeth begging for money for food, (uh,huh, sure), and yes, lotsa people who bought pants twelve sizes too big.
    I always say that instead of handing out food stamps and cars, the government should have “Operation Belt.”

  37. Marg says:

    Our third order has a prison apostolate; when we donate rosaries they have to be black, break away plastic…so they can’t be used as gang symbols.

  38. irishsmile says:

    My heart goes out to the young man who is terrified that his grandmother may be dying from cancer. This is a complicated issue. Yes, some gang members wear rosaries and that is disgraceful. I don’t see this young man however as either a gang member or superstitious at all. A rosary is a sacramental. I would be ecstatic if I had a grandson who believed enough in Our Blessed Mother’s intervention to want to wear his rosary if I wear the victim of a deadly disease. I have seen ‘Goth’ teenagers wearing large crucifixes around their necks but certainly we can’t ban crucifixes because the ‘Goth’ tenns wear them for jewelry. My youngest son is a priest and he was raised to spiritually appreciate sacramentals as were all my children. We can’t let anti-socials steal the respect for sacramentals that our children should have.

  39. EXCHIEF says:

    As a long time cop who has worked in gang areas I have to agree with the school. It is a fact that some gangs (predominently Hispanic–and that is not a racial slam, just a fact) do wear a rosary as part of their attire. The school did not ban him from carryng the rosary in his pocket they simply denied his wearing it in a visible way.

  40. Until about five months ago (when I accidentally broke the link on my rosary) I would wear it under my shirt every day. Now that I’m reminded of it, I’ll probably fix it up and start doing that again. It’s a nice reminder to pray throughout the day.

    There’s a world of difference between “wearing a rosary” and “wearing a rosary as jewelry.

  41. Jael says:

    The eastern Church has a long history of wearing a prayer rope on the wrist, either a short one with 33 knots, or a long one with 100 (looped a few times). How is this different from wearing a rosary?

    Also, when I taught religious education and gave rosaries to my students, the Hispanic ones all automatically put them around their necks. At the time I was disturbed by that, but said nothing, asked questions, and learned it is a devout practice south of our border.

  42. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    In Puerto Rico, which is rather famous for the extent of its Marian devotion, the custom for men to wear the rosary under their shirt so that it may be easily and quickly accessible for prayer. It used to be the custom to pray the rosary three times a day (morning, noon, and evening). In October it is the custom to wear the rosary openly, for obvious reasons.

    Yes they had pockets, but if you had an item that you considered precious, wished to use at any moment, and did not want to lose, could you think of a better or more secure place than around your neck and next to your heart? The idea probably came from the maner in which the Eucharist is taken to the sick.

  43. Burke says:

    Literary reference: wasn’t Jonathan Harker given a rosary by a little old lady to wear as protection on his way to Castle Dracula?

  44. Timothy Mulligan says:

    I’m an immigration lawyer. Several years ago, one of my clients, a young man from Haiti, came to see me wearing a rosary around his neck. I asked him if he prayed the rosary. He said, “No, this is the look now,” or something to that effect. At the end of our appointment, I found concise instructions on praying the rosary and printed them for him. I encouraged him to learn how to use that rosary.

    So this became a teaching moment. I admit that I can’t stand seeing someone wearing the rosary as jewelry. (I am not including those from cultures that sincerely wear the rosary out of devotion.)

  45. irishgirl says:

    I think it would have been better for the young man to carry his grandmother’s Rosary in his shirt pocket, if the school was going to get all hyper about him wearing it around his neck.
    @ gambletrainman: Yeah, I know what you mean about the over-baggy pants. The neighborhood where our little TLM chapel is located is in a rather ‘dicey’ part of town (I know: in March some lowlife smashed my car window when it was parked out in front of the chapel and stole two bags which were in the back seat…fortunately both were recovered in the tiny ‘back yard’ of the chapel, along with their contents, thanks to a sharp-eyed cop named MICHAEL…but I digress). I always saw these skinny young kids wearing pants that were slung low over their waists, so low I could glimpse their underwear. Disgusting….these were times when I would be sorely tempted to sneak up behind them and yank the pants down, too!
    It’s even worse when the girls wear over-tight clothing! Who wants to see that? I sure don’t!

  46. Just my opinion here. The Rosary is for praying, not for wearing as a piece of jewelry or an amulet.

    I worked in a Catholic book and gift store in Dallas for about 7 years and there were many times that gang members came in to buy a rosary because they thought it would “protect” them in a gang war. Other customers, who I knew were sincere about “praying” the rosary, I would remind them to have the Rosary blessed; I would never tell a gang member to have the Rosary blessed by a priest or deacon. One has to be careful how they treat a sacramental.

  47. Cavaliere says:

    Jeff, people don’t explain themselves well and since we don’t know his heart, so its a bit presumptuous to assume he sees it as a good luck charm.

    @acardnal, From the StarTribune article,

    “He said he hasn’t been wearing the beads for religious reasons — they’re a Roman Catholic symbol, he’s Lutheran — but as a totem that held him close to his grandmother. “I feel safe, like she’s right here with me,” he said.”

  48. albinus1 says:

    Brings to mind those who hang the beads over their car’s rear-view mirror.

    Actually, I have small rosary specifically designed to be hung over a rear-view mirror (it has one decade, and a clasp that can be fastened and unfastened, and it’s too big to wear as a bracelet, so clearly it was designed for a rear-view mirror). I bought it as a Catholic religious article store.

    That said, I think incidents like this are are argument for school uniforms and for banning any kind of jewelry or — as the French do — banning any kind of religious symbols in public schools altogether.

    I have seen ‘Goth’ teenagers wearing large crucifixes around their necks but certainly we can’t ban crucifixes because the ‘Goth’ tenns wear them for jewelry

    Well, yes, you can — you simply ban students from wearing any kind of jewelry, period. Again, the argument for school uniforms asserts itself. Students can “express their individuality” outside of school, on their own time.

  49. JKnott says:

    It may have been Bishop Fulton Sheen or maybe St Francis De Sales who commented that “wearing” virtue externally is more beautiful than jewelry. I actually like seeing others wear their sacramentals (Miraculous Medal, Cross etc) because I feel a camaraderie with them and I often wear a Miraculous Medal. There are many different cultural devotions as mentioned in these comments which are what make us Catholic. However, the sacramentals are meant to provide grace not only for protection but as an aid to the practice of virtues. The “wearing’ of the Christ-like and Mary-like virtues can be a powerful form of evangelization. As an OCDS we wear the small scapular beneath our clothing and only on meeting days is the larger scapular worn in the group, and never outside those times. There is a special mystery to having our cherished sacramentals beneath the clothing, or in our pockets, as a reminder to strive to become saints and confidence in God’s grace to get us there. Purity of intention trumps using these things as political statements which may generate unnecessary conflict. What I find truly objectionable are women wearing medals or crosses with low cut tops . It screams of a lack of modesty and a disrespect to the Lord. It is a very popular fashion today, even among good Catholic women.

  50. Imrahil says:

    Dear @albinus1,

    the thing about banning religious symbols altogether is an argument for why not to have school uniforms. The French example is 100% in the spirit of the miserable 1905 Laicité Law, as any Frenchman will be first to explain to you. And indeed, for forbidding religious symbols I cannot see any other reason as this: “religion is private matter, in the public we’re secular”, an attitude that forbids itself. The French example is an example of what not to do.

    [This is about the specific thing of religious symbols. That, as I said, this is an argument why not to have school uniforms, was really an aside and off-topic. However, here the explanation: They do after all have to be able to express something of their individuality, so why not more, decency being provided.]

  51. wmeyer says:

    I think it’s quite simple: any school can set and enforce a dress code; any school which bans items on an ad hoc basis risks lawsuits and bad press, and has earned them.

  52. Imrahil says:

    Can they?

    Well, in a country where school is not an institution under supreme governance of the State with obligation of attendance, to be enforced by the police if necessary, maybe they can.

  53. mrsschiavolin says:

    We are close to a devout Catholic principal of an at-risk charter school. He has had to crack down on this very issue. When the kids protest, he asks them to recite the mysteries. They can’t.

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