A school district in Mississippi has been sued for banning a third grade student from wearing a facemask in class that has “Jesus Loves Me” written on it.
The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lydia Booth on Monday in United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Defendants named in the suit include the Simpson County School District, the Board of Education for Simpson County, Superintendent Greg Paes, Assistant Superintendent Robert Sanders, and Simpson Central School Principal Antoinette Woodall.
According to the litigation, on Oct. 13 school officials told Booth that she had to remove the facemask due to its message in keeping with a school district policy prohibiting facemasks that include political or religious messages.
“Defendants allow students at SCS to wear masks and other clothing with a wide variety of expressive messages during school, including ‘Black Lives Matter’ and masks and shirts promoting many sports teams,” read the suit, in part.
“Defendants’ Religious Speech Policy and practice are overbroad because they sweep within their ambit protected First Amendment expression.”
ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross said in a statement released Monday that public schools must “respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them.”
“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,” stated 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.’ This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
Two days after the reported incident, the superintendent sent out a letter to students, staff, and parents arguing that 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.”
“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,” wrote Paes.
“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.”