A Mendenhall, Mississippi school district has agreed to change a policy banning religious or political speech that barred a 3rd-grade student from wearing a face mask with the phrase “Jesus Loves Me” emblazoned across it to her elementary school.
As part of a settlement agreement ending a federal lawsuit, which Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the student Lydia Booth and her parents Matthew and Jennifer Booth in 2020, schools within the Simpson County School District will respect students’ freedom of expression regardless of religious viewpoint.
In addition, the school district will 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.
“Public schools have no business discriminating against a 9-year-old for her religious expression,” 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.’ Lydia deserves and will now have an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
As CBN News reported in November of 2020, ADF filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Booth family asking the court to issue an injunction against the school’s policy and for the court to rule that the policy is “unconstitutional.”
The complaint resulted from an Oct. 13, 2020 incident in which the principal told then-9-year-old Lydia to remove her face mask with the words “Jesus Loves Me” printed across it. She was instructed to replace it with a different one, according to Life News.
Her parents contacted the Simpson County School District multiple times after the incident to explain that the school’s handbook did not have a policy prohibiting religious expression.
Two days after the incident, Simpson County School District Superintendent Greg Pae sent a letter to parents, students, and district staff reminding them the 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.”
But Pae also wrote, “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.”
The young girl is a Christian who “desires to share her religious views with her classmates,” the legal complaint said. She “believes that Jesus loves people and wants people to trust in Him.”
Every day, multiple students and staff members reportedly wore masks with some form of graphics or message on them.
The lawsuit argued that the child wore a mask to school, which is no different than when “other students and faculty wear masks with expressive messages to share their beliefs and views with their classmates.”
“No student should be singled out for peacefully expressing her religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “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 light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a stipulation of dismissal Wednesday of L.B. v. Simpson County School District with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of the student and her parents.
Sharkey Burke, one of more than 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, served as local counsel in the lawsuit.
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