The lawsuit alleges that the school violated the 9-year-old’s Constitutional right to religious expression.
On October 13, Lydia Booth wore her “Jesus Loves Me” mask to Simpson Central Elementary School in Pinola, Mississippi, just like she had on several previous occasions. Masks are required at school due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On this occasion, however, Lydia was told that the message on her mask was not permitted and a teacher gave her a plain mask as a substitute. She was told by Principal Antoinette Woodall that the message on the mask was against the school district’s policy.
Lydia’s parents, Matthew and Jennifer Booth, say that the mask policy was changed only after Lydia’s mask was prohibited.
The Booths also said that their daughter has been very upset because she was singled out for an expression of her faith.
Two days after the incident, a letter about the policy was sent to parents and staff that included the prohibition of certain “symbols or messages” — including religious ones — that “may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.”
Dear Parents, Students, and Staff:
The Simpson County School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, marital status or age in admission or access to, or treatment of employment in, its programs or activities. It is the intent of the Simpson County School District to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law in making certain discrimination does not exist in its policies, regulations and operations.
We will continue to expect all students and staff to wear a mask at all times in common areas to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. 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. This expectation was outlined in our restart plan and is specific to masks only. The principal and Superintendent will be the final authority on the appropriateness of any mask worn to school. Wearing school colors, the school mascot or simply having a blank mask is encouraged. We appreciate your understanding and compliance with these expectations.
The Booths say that this is an update of the policy and the original mask mandate had no such conditions.
“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. “…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.”
The girl’s mother, Jennifer Booth, claims the school’s handbook not only had no policy limiting her daughter’s religious expression, but that the handbook actually protects her freedom of speech with policies under the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act.
Source: NBC 12
The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Booths seeking a jury trial and “nominal damages” because Lydia was so upset by the incident.
The lawsuit states that Lydia had worn the mask on several occasions prior to the October 13 incident and no students appeared to be “visibly upset or distracted” by the message.
It further states that other messages on masks were permitted such as logos of sports teams and the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
Tyson Langhofer, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom said, ‘When the school is discriminating against individuals who want to wear masks expressing religious beliefs but are allowing students and faculty to wear masks expressing messages with other beliefs and that is not allowable in the first amendment.”
‘Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,’ ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross told WLBT.
‘Lydia told her parents she wants to be a missionary and that’s why she wants to wear this mask. It made her really sad when she was forced to remove this mask because the message means something to her and it’s her choice to wear it’, senior ADF Counsel Tyson Langhofer additionally told WBRC.
Source: Daily Mail
The school has told news outlets that they don’t comment on pending litigation.