Donald Trump and Joe Biden facemasks have popped up at political rallies.
MAGA and BLM masks are among the top-selling face coverings in the country.
But, as one third-grade child discovered, masks with certain messages are apparently off-limits.
State and local governments have repeatedly used the coronavirus to discriminate against churches and religious institutions, forcing many faith-based organizations to challenge those restrictions in court.
Government entities have even targeted Christian schools, attempting to hold schools like Hermiston Christian in Umatilla County, Oregon to more stringent COVID-19 restrictions.
Now using the pandemic to squash religious freedom has trickled into public schools, with a Mississippi family alleging religious discrimination at their daughter’s elementary school.
Third-grader Lydia Booth was ordered to remove her “Jesus Loves Me” mask on Oct. 13 and replace it with a school-supplied face covering.
Her parents, Matthew and Jennifer Booth, have filed a federal lawsuit charging the Simpson County School District in Mississippi with discrimination.
Simpson Central School in Pinola, Miss. requires students to wear masks, but under a newly-amended school policy, Lydia could be suspended if she continues to wear her faith-themed mask.
According to the lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the school permits students to wear masks displaying and advocating a wide variety of logos and messages, including sports teams and Black Lives Matter.
But the school forced Lydia to remove her mask, ADF says, even though it “caused no disruptions” and was not initially against school policy.
Two days later, the school implemented a policy prohibiting messages that are “political, religious, sexual or inappropriate” that may be “offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive.”
“Defendants’ censorship of [Booth’s] religious message, and the Religious Speech Policy and practice on which that censorship was based, violate the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the suit says.
According to ADF, Booth is a Christian who “desires to share her religious views with her classmates.”
The new school policy, ADF says, violates Booth’s constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and religion.
“Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them,” ADF legal counsel Michael Ross said.
“While school administrators face challenges in helping students navigate school life during a pandemic, those officials simply can’t suspend the First Amendment or arbitrarily pick and choose the messages that students can or can’t express.”
Because the school district allowed other students to wear masks with logos and political messages, Ross contends that Lydia “deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
Two days after Lydia was forced to remove her mask, the school superintendent sent a letter to students, parents and staff outlining the revised policy.
The letter stated the school district “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, marital status or age in admission or access to, or treatment of employment in, its programs or activities.”
The letter said face coverings “cannot display political, religious, sexual or any inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.”
It indicated the requirement was outlined in the district’s school restart plan and was specific to masks only.
“Wearing school colors, the school mascot or simply having a blank mask is encouraged,” the letter read.
Lydia’s mother, Jennifer, communicated repeatedly with school officials before going to court and pointed out that the school’s handbook had no policy limiting religious expression.
According to ADF, the school’s policy prior to Oct. 13 protected freedom of speech in compliance with the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act and the First Amendment.
School officials presented Jennifer Booth with a copy of the school district’s plan for responding to COVID-19, but according to the lawsuit, the updated plan included retroactive modifications banning religious messages on face masks.
The next day, the school superintendent announced the new ban, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit asks the court to stop the school from enforcing the new mask policy. It says the school and school district are censoring Lydia’s freedom of expression by enforcing the policy.
“No public school student should be singled out for peacefully sharing her religious beliefs with fellow students,” said ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer, the director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.
“Today’s students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public schools demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”