A Mississippi family is suing their daughter’s school in federal court after the child was forced to remove her mask with “Jesus Loves Me” written on it.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm who is representing the family, Matthew and Jennifer Booth filed a federal lawsuit on Monday alleging religious discrimination.
Early in October, the Booths’ nine-year-old daughter, Lydia, wore the mask to Simpson Central School. During her computer class, Lydia was told by her teacher that she could not wear a mask with words on it but did not instruct her to remove it at that time, the suit alleges.
Jennifer Booth alleges that her daughter had worn the mask before without issue and that she had seen other students wearing masks with words on them.
Unable to find verbiage in the school rules that bans masks with words on them, Jennifer declared in a Facebook post that Lydia would wear the mask again when she returned to school the following week. That morning, however, Jennifer says the school’s principal contacted her to warn her that the mask violated the school’s dress code.
At school that day, the suit claims, the principal dropped into the classroom and winked at Lydia, then the teacher’s assistant asked Lydia to change her mask before lunch so that no one else would see it. Lydia then replaced her mask with one printed with images of pandas.
That afternoon, Jennifer emailed the superintendent of the district and the principal, requesting that Lydia be allowed to “return to wearing her mask TODAY and have an apology to her from the school district.”
According to ADF, the school’s religious speech policy “prohibits messages on masks that are ‘political, religious, sexual or inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.”
In the suit, ADF contends that the policy and the forced removal of Lydia’s mask “violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
Lydia’s “Jesus Loves Me” mask caused no disruptions, upset no students, and no student complained about its message, the suit states, adding that the “defendants regularly permit [the student’s] schoolmates to wear masks with messages on them. Following are just a few examples of the messages and designs Plaintiff and her parents have observed on other students’ and faculty’s masks: Jackson State University logo; New Orleans Saints logo; ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
“Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,” said ADF legal counsel Michael Ross in a statement according to Christian Headlines. “While school administrators face challenges in helping students navigate school life during a pandemic, those officials simply can’t suspend the First Amendment or arbitrarily pick and choose the messages that students can or can’t express.”
“Other students within the school district have freely worn masks with the logos of local sports teams or even the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Ross concluded. “This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
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