School singles out 9-year-old for banned ‘Jesus’ face mask

‘There’s a complete lack of integrity’

By Bob Unruh July 26, 2021

A school is facing a lawsuit for singling out one student’s “Jesus Loves Me” face mask during COVID because it created the “policy” against religious words only after it already had punished the student for wearing it.

That, and the fact the practice appears to violate the law.

Mississippi mother Jennifer Booth has explained the war she is in with Simpson County School District in a podcast with the Daily Signal.

The case, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the mother and her daughter, Lydia Booth, charges the school has abandoned its duty to “respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them.”

“No public school student should be singled out for peacefully sharing her religious beliefs with fellow students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “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.”

In the podcast, Booth explained she was a little surprised when the school notified her that her daughter was banned from wearing a face mask during COVID that said “Jesus Loves Me.”

For one thing, her daughter already had worn the mask for several months without issue.

Then, too, she examined the school’s policies, its handbook, and its rules, and found no authorization for such a speech ban. In fact, she found just the opposite – and when she challenged the school, officials were unable to find any such rule in their own handbook.

Booth pointed out the school specifically acknowledged the 2016 Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act, “which is our state-level law that protects students’ freedom of speech as far as expressing their religious view in their work or in anything, so long as they’re not being disruptive about it. And then on the very next page, they have where they recognize the students’ freedom of speech.”

Eventually, days later, she was told by the school that the ban on “religious” words was in the school’s COVID restart plan.

But Booth checked the original posting of the plan, and it wasn’t there.

But it was in a document that an administrator emailed to her.

Booth, whose career is in IT, checked the metadata for the document she was sent, and found out the policy had been modified by the school administrator “30 minutes before he called me.”

She said the knowledge that the school fabricated a policy to support its position after attacking the message her child wanted to convey to her fellow students was “devastating.”

“OK, these people are in charge of my child. They are supposed to be protecting my child whenever I can’t be there. They’re supposed to be role models, and here they are, not only are they violating the rights they’re supposed to be teaching her at the school, but there’s a complete lack of integrity. They’re not taking responsibility and showing my child the way that an adult should act, and the way that I expect my children to act,” she said on the podcast.

Her connection to ADF followed shortly, and now the case is pending.

Langhofer explained, “The most surprising thing about Jennifer’s story to me and the sad thing is that not only did they not have a policy, they modified the policy, or purported to modify the policy, to address that situation. But the sad thing is that this school official actually thought that was going to make it better. It didn’t make it better, it made it worse. Why did it make it worse? Because they targeted political and religious speech.”

Langhofer continued, “And if you know anything about the First Amendment at all, you know that the worst thing you can do as a government official is to target certain content of certain speech, the viewpoint of certain speech. And so what it tells you is there’s a lack of understanding in our government officials about what our fundamental rights are.

“The fundamental rights are protected by the First Amendment: the right to engage in the free exercise of religion, the right to engage in free speech, and the right to prohibit the government from telling you what you can and can’t say on a specific topic.”

The lawyer told the school has backed down, now allowing the child to war her mask, but so far failed to admit what it did was wrong.


Related

UPDATE: Girl Banned From Wearing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Mask Is Still Pointing Classmates to Jesus

By Jesse T. Jackson -May 19, 2021

Jesus loves me

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.

According to WLBT News, nine-year-old Lydia Booth was ordered by her principal to remove her mask and wear another one, her attorneys said.

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.

ADF attorney Michael Ross said, “Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them.”

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 reliefdeclaratory 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.