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Parents file lawsuit after school forces third grader to remove 'Jesus Loves Me' mask

The lawsuit accuses the Simpson County School District of discriminating against the third-grader for wanting to express her religious beliefs.

Parents file lawsuit after school forces third grader to remove 'Jesus Loves Me' mask
Cover Image Source: Getty Images (representative)

A Mississippi couple has filed a lawsuit against their third-grade daughter's school district after the school principal reportedly made her take off a mask that said: "Jesus Loves Me." Nine-year-old Lydia Booth is said to have been forced to remove the mask and wear another one on October 13 at Simpson Central Elementary School in Pinola, Simpson County, which the family says was an infringement of the young girl's First Amendment rights. The lawsuit accuses the Simpson County School District of discriminating against the third-grader for wanting to express her religious beliefs, reports WBRC.

 



 

 

Lydia's parents, Matthew and Jennifer Booth, said that the principal told their daughter the mask was against district policy. However, the school's handbook had no policy limiting her daughter's religious expression, Jennifer told WLBT and instead protects her freedom of speech with policies under the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act. However, two days after the incident, the school issued a statement banning masks with "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," added the statement signed by the school district superintendent Greg Paes. However, the Booths say the policy was changed to prohibit messages only after they objected to Lydia being told to remove the mask. Alliance Defending Freedom — a conservative Christian nonprofit based in Arizona that focuses on advocating and fundraising for the issues of "religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, marriage, and family" — filed a federal lawsuit on the family's behalf, alleging that the school district infringed on the girl's first amendment right to free speech.

 



 

 

The lawsuit also claims that Lydia had worn the face mask on multiple occasions prior to October 13 and that no students had become visibly upset or distracted by its message. "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. "...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." Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said that the school's actions have deeply affected the elementary school student.

 



 

 

"When the school is discriminating against individuals who want to wear masks expressing religious beliefs but are allowing students and faculty to wear masks expressing messages with other beliefs, that [is] not allowable in the first amendment," he said. "She's told her parents she wants to be a missionary and that's why she wants to wear this mask. It made her really sad when she was forced to remove this mask because the message means something to her and it's her choice to wear it." Many social media users agreed with the lawsuit and the family's claim that the 9-year-old's rights were violated. "Each to their own but whatever happened to freedom of speech," wrote Twitter user Timothy Harvey.

 



 

 

"I'm an atheist but I do not see a problem with this. If they are saying that they don't want people displaying their religion what will they do about hijabs, Sikh turbans, etc. should apply to all or apply to none," tweeted @Janetmhill. "Is it because they don't allow any mask with words or because of the words? It's a slippery slope most schools and businesses avoid rightfully. What will the next person's mask say?" commented @onelove6113.

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