The family of a third grade girl has filed a federal lawsuit after her school principal ordered her to remove her mask that has the words “Jesus Loves Me” printed on it.
Lydia Booth wore the face mask to Simpson Central School in Mississippi on October 13, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) reported Monday in a press statement. Her principal ordered her to remove the mask and wear another one.
ADF, a nonprofit litigation firm that advocates for religious liberty and free speech, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of Lydia’s parents, Matthew and Jennifer Booth.
School officials can’t pick and choose which messages students are allowed to express and which they aren’t. https://t.co/LhU4DVa1ls
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends) November 5, 2020
According to WLBT, two days after the principal told Lydia to remove her mask, the school district issued a statement, from Superintendent Greg Paes, that says, in part:
Masks cannot display political, religious, sexual or any inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.
Superintendent Greg Paes
A case summary at ADF states Lydia’s mother, Jennifer, discovered her daughter was singled out for the message on her mask.
The summary continues:
[Jennifer] immediately researched the school’s policy, finding that it did not prohibit messages on masks. After Jennifer questioned these policies through social media and spoke with school officials, the school then changed the policy in an attempt to justify their discrimination against Lydia’s religious expression.
The civil rights complaint states that, while the school district allows students “to convey a multitude of messages concerning virtually unlimited topics on their masks,” the principal forced Lydia to remove hers with the words, “Jesus Loves Me” printed on it.
“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, adding:
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.” This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.
“Defendants’ censorship of L.B.’s religious message, and the Religious Speech Policy and practice on which that censorship was based, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the complaint states.
“School officials can’t pick and choose which messages students are allowed to express and which they aren’t,” ADF asserted. “And they certainly can’t single out religious speech for worse treatment than other types of speech. On top of that, what qualifies as ‘offensive’ or ‘disruptive’ or ‘distractive’ is left completely up to school officials.”
“If masks expressing other beliefs and views are allowed, then ‘Jesus Loves Me’ should be allowed as well,” ADF said.