A third-grader was forced to remove her mask due to the inappropriate message that it displayed, which the principal claimed went against school policy. A lawsuit has since been filed.
Lydia Booth, a 9-year-old, Mississippi third-grader, has aspirations of becoming a missionary, so she chose a mask that expressed her beliefs. Unfortunately, when she wore the mask to Simpson Central Elementary School in Pinola on October 13th, her principal ordered her to remove it due to the message it displayed.
In pink letters on black fabric, Lydia’s mask read, “Jesus Loves Me.” Claiming the mask’s message was inappropriate because it went against district policy, the principal told Lydia to remove it. She was then given another mask to wear with no message on it, according to her parents, Matthew and Jennifer Booth, WBRC reported.
Although the principal said the mask went against district policy, the Booths allege that the policy prohibiting messages was only implemented after they objected to Lydia being told to remove her mask. News reports seem to support their allegation.
“The school later issued a statement banning any mask that displays ‘political, religious, sexual or any inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment,’” the NY Post reported. Corroborating the Post’s allegation that the statement came “later,” WLBT reports, “Two days later, the school issued a statement regarding masks.”
With Lydia claiming the incident occurred on October 13th and the school’s statement dated October 15th, it does indeed appear that the policy prohibiting messages on masks was put in place after Lydia was made to remove hers.
Lydia’s mother, Jennifer, also claims the school’s handbook had no policy limiting her daughter’s religious expression. Instead, she says the handbook actually protects her freedom of speech with policies under the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act. Rather than uphold the handbook’s policy, however, Booth says a school official responded by giving her a modified copy of the school’s plan to combat COVID-19, which included the new ruling barring religious or political expressions on masks.
Regardless of when the policy was implemented, it didn’t sit well with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) nor did the action taken against Lydia by her principal. On Monday, ADF filed a federal lawsuit on Lydia’s family’s behalf, claiming the district robbed the 9-year-old of her first amendment rights.
The lawsuit aims to prevent the school from enforcing the policy on face masks and claims Lydia is being censored for an issue that could lead to further discipline if the policy is enforced. According to attorneys, the district singled out the girl and robbed her of her constitutional rights. “Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,” ADF attorney Michael Ross explained.
Sadly, while Lydia’s right to free speech was violated, others were allowed to express their beliefs on their masks, Ross said. “Other students within the school district have freely worn masks with the logos of local sports teams or even the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’” he explained. “This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel at the ADF, added that the school’s actions were upsetting to the third-grader. “She’s told her parents she wants to be a missionary and that’s why she wants to wear this mask,” he explained. “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.”
At the time of the news outlet’s report, Wesla Sullivan, an attorney for the Simpson County School Board, said the district has not been served in the lawsuit and does not comment on potential litigation.
Of course, Lydia and her family aren’t the only ones who are upset by the school’s actions, and for good reason. As Langhofer points out, “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.” Sadly, those other beliefs are “not allowable in the first amendment,” according to Langhofer, but religious beliefs, like the one Lydia Booth expressed, are protected.