Public School Faces Lawsuit Over Ban on Religious Masks

Third-grader not allowed to wear 'Jesus Loves Me' face-covering

Schoolchildren wearing masks / Getty Images
November 5, 2020

A Mississippi public school is facing a lawsuit for prohibiting a third-grader from wearing a mask that read "Jesus Loves Me."

The religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is suing Mississippi's Simpson County School District because the school forced the third-grader, Lydia Booth, to remove a religious message from her face mask and retroactively changed its masking code.

When Booth's mother asked for the specific policy that banned free expression on face masks, school officials responded with an updated copy of the school's coronavirus plan that included a ban on religious messages—which had not been in the original plan.

The new policy 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."

ADF legal counsel Michael Ross said the school's policy violates the First Amendment. "Officials simply can't … arbitrarily pick and choose messages that students can or can't express," 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.'"

The Simpson County School District is already enforcing the new masking policy. Booth's school told her family that the nine-year-old would be subject to escalating discipline, up to and including suspension, if she wears the mask again.

The lawsuit calls on the Mississippi state court to stop school officials from enforcing the ban. ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer said that every student deserves an equal opportunity to express their beliefs without fear of punishment.

"No public school student should be singled out for peacefully sharing her religious beliefs with fellow students," Langhofer said.