In 2020, masks have become a fashion statement. You can buy them from most clothing retailers. You can match them to your outfit. You can make political statements with them.
Masks are a new way to “express yourself.”
That is, unless you want to express a religious message.
Lydia Booth, a third grader at Simpson Central School in Mississippi learned this the hard way when she wore a mask that said “Jesus Loves Me” to school. Even though school officials allowed students across the school district to wear a wide variety of other messages on their masks, they forced this third grader to remove hers.
That’s called viewpoint discrimination. And it’s unconstitutional.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom today filed a lawsuit against the Simpson County School District on Lydia’s behalf.
If you were to walk around the campuses of Simpson County School District, you would see a wide variety of messages on student and faculty masks, including masks displaying the Jackson State University logo, the New Orleans Saints logo, and “Black Lives Matter.” So, wearing a “Jesus Loves Me” mask wouldn’t have stuck out, and it certainly didn’t cause any disruptions during the school day. In fact, Lydia had worn her “Jesus Loves Me” mask several times before without any incidents.
Yet, school officials forced this third grader to remove her mask—pointing to a school 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.”
But school officials can’t pick and choose which messages students are allowed to express and which they aren’t. And they certainly can’t single out religious speech for worse treatment than other types of speech. On top of that, what qualifies as “offensive” or “disruptive” or “distractive” is left completely up to school officials.
If masks expressing other beliefs and views are allowed, then “Jesus Loves Me” should be allowed as well.
Our Constitution requires as much. And the school district has a duty to uphold its students’ constitutional rights.
Oddly enough, the school district also has a “free speech” policy that “recognizes a student’s right to free speech provided it is exercised in a manner which is not prohibited by law nor disrupts the educational process.” The district also recognizes that religious views of students are entitled to the same treatment as nonreligious views under Mississippi law.
We’re simply asking Simpson County School District to live up to these policies, and more importantly, to live up to the requirements of the Constitution.