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USA: student may wear previously banned masks with “Jesus Loves Me” sign

(ZENIT News / Jackson, Mississippi, 01.26.2023).- The Simpson County School District has agreed to change an unconstitutional policy that prohibited a 3rd-grade student from wearing a face mask with the phrase “Jesus Loves Me” on it. As part of a settlement agreement ending a federal lawsuit, which Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the student and her parents, schools within the district will respect students’ freedom of expression regardless of religious viewpoint, as the First Amendment requires.

The student, Lydia Booth, wished to peacefully share her Christian views with her schoolmates by wearing her “Jesus Loves Me” face mask, but the principal at her school in the community of Pinola required her to remove and replace it even though she had previously worn the mask, without disruption or incident. Two days later, administrators announced a districtwide policy that prohibits 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.” As a result of the lawsuit, filed in November 2020, the district has changed its policies to be viewpoint-neutral for political and religious expression.

“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.”

Under the settlement agreement, Simpson County 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.

“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.