Mississippi third grader’s family sues school after she’s told she can’t wear a Jesus Loves Me mask.
A disagreement over third grader Lydia Booth’s mask has led to a federal lawsuit. Officials at Simpson Central School in Mississippi took issue with Booth’s covering that included the message “Jesus loves me” and told her she couldn’t wear it.
“Her principal made her remove the mask and wear another one,” according to attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in filing the lawsuit on the family’s behalf.
“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. “While school administrators face challenges in helping students navigate school life during a pandemic, those officials simply can’t suspend the First Amendment or arbitrarily pick and choose the messages that students can or can’t express. 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.”
Two days following the incident, the school’s superintendent, Greg Paes, issued a statement regarding mask wearing, which read in part, “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.”
The lawsuit alleges the school district is in violation of Booth’s first amendment right to free speech.
The girl’s mother, Jennifer Booth, said the school’s handbook did not include a policy limiting religious expression. Instead, she said it includes verbiage protecting freedom of speech with policies under the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act. When presented with this, Booth alleged a school official provided her with a modified copy which includes coronavirus criteria and a new rule barring religious or political expression on masks.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop enforcement of the policy, claiming Booth wants to wear her “Jesus Loves Me” mask to school but “is self-censoring her expression because her school has already enforced the policy and promises to continue to enforce it, which could subject her to escalating discipline, up to and including suspension.”
Last month, a similar lawsuit was filed against Whataburger after former employee, 19-year-old Ma’Kiya Congious, claimed she lost her job after wearing a “Black Lives Matter” mask to work.
“It’s not a political thing,” Congious said of her mask. “It’s just a statement that says, ‘Black Lives Matter’ because we do matter.”
The company had responded, “If we allow any non-Whataburger slogans as part of our uniforms, we have to allow all slogans. This could create tension and conflict among our employees and our customers. It is our job as a responsible brand to proactively keep our employees and customers safe.”