Nine-year-old Lydia Booth from Mississippi has won a lawsuit against the Simpson County School District for violating her First Amendment constitutional rights.
Back in 2020, Lydia had been wearing her face mask to school that displayed the phrase, “Jesus Loves Me.” Then, in October 2020, Lydia’s computer lab teacher warned her not to keep wearing the mask to school. Lydia recalls that her teacher “just said it. She told me not to wear it again. Not to wear that kind of mask, with words.”
After reviewing the school’s regulations and dress code, Lydia’s mom Jennifer couldn’t find anything that would prohibit Lydia from attending school with her face mask. In fact, there was a section in the dress code protecting a student’s right to free speech. So, she allowed Lydia to continue wearing the face mask.
But shortly thereafter, the school’s principal called to tell Jennifer that her daughter couldn’t “have religious or political things on masks at school.”
Two days later, the district had updated their policy to prohibit messages on masks that are “political, religious, sexual or inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.”
In response, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit in November 2020 against the Simpson County School District on behalf of Lydia and her parents. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi and sought to “vindicate the constitutional rights” of Lydia.
“Public schools have no business discriminating against a 9-year-old for her religious expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross, following the filing of a joint dismissal of the case on January 25, 2023.
“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,” Ross added.
In an agreed upon settlement, the school district decided to change its policies “to be viewpoint-neutral for political and religious expression,” meaning it is doing away with its restrictions on masks with “political or religious” content. Lydia will be allowed to wear her “Jesus Loves Me” facemask if she desires.
“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, educator, 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,” Langhofer added.
The case is L.B. v. Simpson County School District.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom.