By Jesse T. Jackson -May 19, 2021
UPDATED May 19, 2021: Third grader Lydia Booth has been banned from wearing a mask that says “Jesus Love Me” at her elementary school. But the love Jesus is only shining brighter because of her stand.
“Dear Lydia, I’m praying for you!” said one of two sisters who wrote Lydia encouraging notes after learning what she is going through. The girl continued,
I’m glad that you’re a missionary. I’m so glad that God loves us and He sent His son to die for us! I know God is using us to tell others about Jesus. I know how you feel! I have a friend who doesn’t know God, but she doesn’t want to listen! I’m praying for her and I’m praying for you! I bet when she’s grown-up a little bit, I bet she’ll want to listen. I know God sees our troubles, and I know God will answer our prayers very soon! God loves you!
The other sister told Lydia, “We are praying for you” and “We love you.”
Lydia Booth, who attends Simpson Central Elementary School in Pinola, Miss., was banned from wearing her “Jesus Loves You” mask under the argument that it violates school policy. However, administrators have allowed other students to wear masks with messages on them, and Lydia’s mother, Jennifer, claims they have modified documents after the fact to justify banning Lydia from wearing her mask. Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Booth family on the grounds that the school is violating Lydia’s constitutional right to express her religious beliefs.
Some of Lydia’s peers are actually curious about Christianity because of her situation. One of her classmates now wants a “Jesus Love Me” mask as well. After hearing about the situation, an older sister of one of Lydia’s classmates decided to read the whole Bible.
Lydia says that when she was told she could not wear her mask any more, “It made me feel a little sad and confused…I love the words on that mask…I didn’t know why it was happening.” Her mother is proud of her for standing up for what she believes. Said Jennifer, “It’s powerful for my kids to see other kids being a witness for Christ and even living through some persecution for it.”
ChurchLeaders original article written on November 6, 2020, below:
On October 13, 2020, a third grader at Simpson Central Elementary School, located in Pinola, Miss., was forced to remove her mask that said “Jesus Loves Me” in large pink letters across it.
On October 15, 2020, Simpson County School District’s Superintendent Greg Paes sent a letter out to all the parents, students, and staff that stated, “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.” Paes also wrote that “the principal and superintendent will be the final authority on the appropriateness of any mask worn to school.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who, according to their website, has been advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, and marriage and family for more than 25 years, filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 2, 2020, on behalf of Lydia and her parents, Matthew and Jennifer Booth.
The lawsuit requests (line 10), “Preliminary injunctive relief is necessary because Lydia Booth desires to immediately wear her ‘Jesus Loves Me’ mask and masks with similar religious message, to school, but is self-censoring her speech because Defendants (Simpson County School District) have enforced and will continue to enforce their Religious Speech Policy against her, which will subject her to the escalating discipline outlined in those policies for repeat infractions, to and including suspension.”
The suit also claims that (line 17), “Lydia Booth is an adherent of the Christian faith and desires to share her religious views with her schoolmates.”
The filed lawsuit (line 67) gives examples of how the defendants regularly permit Lydia Booth’s schoolmates to wear masks with messages on them. The examples were provided by Booth’s parents who witnessed masks worn by students and faculty with the Jackson State University logo, New Orleans Saints logo, Black Lives Matter, and other expressive messages on them.
Principal Woodall called Lydia’s mother Jennifer (line 88) to inform her that her daughter had been required to wear a replacement mask due to Lydia’s mask reading, “Jesus Loves Me.” Woodall claimed that the student handbook prohibits religious messages on mask. When Mrs. Booth asked to be shown where that is located, Woodall referenced the “Dress Code for Students policy which prohibits ‘clothing advertising alcoholic beverages or drug culture, clothing with obscene language or gestures or clothing of any suggestive nature.’ ” Mrs. Booth told Principal Woodall that “Jesus Loves Me” doesn’t fit the criteria mentioned in the policy.
In an email to the principal and superintendent, Lydia’s mother responded shortly after the principal’s call and requested her child return to wearing her mask “TODAY” and have an apology to her from the school district. Mrs. Booth stated, “According to the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act that took effect July 1, 2013 you are prohibited from discriminating against students by their expression of religious perspectives.”
Assistant Superintendent Robert Sanders later replied to Lydia’s mother admitting that the student handbook does not prohibit her daughter from wearing the “Jesus Loves Me” mask, but the school’s Restart Plan (due to COVID-19) prohibits masks with “political, religious, or sexual references” on them. Mrs. Booth asked how a message on a T-shirt differs from one on a mask, referring to the handbook not prohibiting such clothing. Sanders responded by saying, “If the district allowed Lydia to wear the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ mask then the district would also have to allow a mask with the message ‘Satan Loves Me.’”
“Although that would be sad,” Lydia’s mother responded, “a student should be allowed to wear a mask with the message ‘Satan Loves Me’ if they chose to do so.”
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer asserted, “No public school student should be singled out for peacefully sharing her religious beliefs with fellow students.”
The suit says Lydia Booth is seeking injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and nominal damages against Simpson County School District and the Board of Education of Simpson County, Mississippi, for violating her rights and the rights of other students under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.
Read the entire complaint here.