The Simpson County School District in Mississippi has reached a settlement allowing an elementary school student to wear a face mask bearing the message “Jesus Loves Me” to school, according to The Daily Signal.
The legal proceedings, which lasted for two years, were initiated by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal-aid organization, on behalf of the student, Lydia Booth, who was 9 at the time of the incident.
The incident occurred in the fall of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Lydia came home and told her mother that school officials would no longer allow her to wear her “Jesus Loves Me” face mask, though other students were allowed to wear masks with sports logos and even the phrase “Black Lives Matter” (BLM).
Her mother, Jennifer Booth, stated that she had initially believed the teacher who spoke to her daughter must have been having a “bad day” and sent Lydia back to school with the mask, the Daily Signal reports.
Booth recounted, “The principal calls me, and she’s like, ‘We’re going to have to have Lydia swap her mask out,’” describing how the principal said it was against school policy “to have religious symbols or gestures on her mask.”
However, upon inspecting the school handbook, Booth found no prohibitions on religious symbols or gestures.
In the settlement, the school district has agreed to “retract its previous restriction on masks that have ‘political’ or ‘religious’ content and will allow Lydia to wear her ‘Jesus Loves Me’ face mask to school if she chooses to do so,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.
Tyson Langhofer, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel, stated, “No student should be singled out for peacefully expressing her religious beliefs.”
Michael Ross, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel, added, “Other students within the school district have freely worn masks with the logos of local sports teams or even the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Lydia deserves, and will now have, an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow with the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, commented, “It is a long-standing principle that students do not surrender their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse doors—and the Supreme Court has so held.”
“Thankfully, the Simpson County School District has agreed to change its patently unconstitutional speech policy, but only after a federal lawsuit was filed,” Perry continued. “Schools would do well to remember the constitutional rights of students cannot be simply suspended—during a pandemic or otherwise.”
Alliance Defending Freedom has requested that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismiss the lawsuit in light of the settlement.
Langhofer concluded, “Today’s students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public schools demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”