My Child Deserves First Amendment Freedoms. Her School Disagrees.
When my daughter returned to school wearing a mask that read “Jesus Loves Me,” my husband and I never guessed that such an unobjectionable message would cause any controversy. And of course, we never expected that her First Amendment rights would later be violated. Certainly not in our small town, seated on the Bible belt in Mississippi – and especially not with our 9-year-old daughter at her own school, where she is supposed to be learning about this great country and the freedoms the Constitution guarantees for her and all Americans.
Consistent with her school’s COVID-19 guidelines, our daughter Lydia has been wearing a mask for the last several months, including occasionally her “Jesus Loves Me” mask. Many students throughout the district have worn messages on masks to express themselves – sports teams and university logos, television phrases, political candidates, and even the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” But after months of wearing her mask without incident, Lydia was pulled aside and told she could not wear “words” or messages on her mask.
I immediately researched and found no policy prohibiting messages on face masks. I spoke with several other parents and later questioned the incident on a private social media post. The next school day, after being notified of my post, the principal verified Lydia was wearing her “Jesus Loves Me” mask again and called to explain that masks cannot have political or religious messages. Lydia was then forced to remove and replace her mask.
After speaking with multiple school officials and questioning this incident on social media, the school’s leadership changed its policies to prohibit any religious messages on masks in an attempt to justify their actions against Lydia and discredit our complaint. My husband and I soon discovered the discrepancy and their attempt to cover up the incident.
But even the policy they put in after the fact violates my daughter’s First Amendment rights. After seeing this policy and this gross attempt to hide their fault, we have now filed suit with the help of our attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.
As a parent, I am the primary teacher of my children, and in addition to and consistent with our faith in Jesus Christ, we have instilled in them a love for our country and the freedoms it allows to worship, express, and live by our faith in God. Being wronged on a personal level is only the beginning; freedom extends far beyond ourselves.
Public schools are supposed to be the very places where our nation’s fundamental freedoms are taught and modeled. Instead, our daughter’s religious freedom and freedom of speech were censored because her expression was considered offensive and unwelcome by the school’s leadership. This behavior cannot be tolerated.
So, as my daughter’s primary teacher, I have one more lesson for her: when your freedoms are violated, you stand up for them. You fight for what is right. Our daughter’s, or any child’s, constitutional rights do not disappear when she walks into her school.
This isn’t just about a mask; it is about public-school leadership picking and choosing which viewpoints are welcome at school. This is about doing what is right, not manipulating policy to cover faults. My husband and I are suing the Simpson County School District not only for the trespasses our daughter has experienced, but for any child that has had their freedoms violated. We are taking a stand to protect those freedoms in the future.
And we take comfort in knowing that “for those who love God, all things work together for good—for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Jennifer Booth and her husband Matthew Booth are parents in the Simpson County School District.