Christian Living

Why One Mom Dug Deeper into a School District Policy… And Eventually Sued

By Sarah Kramer

When Jennifer Booth got a call from her daughter’s principal, she knew it couldn’t be good news.

“We’re going to have to replace Lydia’s mask,” the principal said. “You can’t have religious or political things on masks at school.”

Jennifer was confused.

This was the second time that Lydia had been told she couldn’t wear this particular mask at school. But Jennifer had pored over the student handbook and the dress code. She had reached out to other parents—including one who worked at the school. And she couldn’t identify any policies that said her third-grade daughter couldn’t wear this mask. She even asked the principal to identify the specific policy, but the principal could not give her an answer.

What made this mask so troublesome? It read: “Jesus Loves Me.”

Lydia Booth's "Jesus Loves Me" Mask

Those three little—but significant—words are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Lydia has a right to free speech and religious freedom, just like everyone else.

Yet, school officials had singled out and silenced Lydia—making her feel as if she had done something wrong.

That’s when “Mama Bear” came out.

After the principal could not give her an answer, Jennifer reached out to the assistant superintendent. But he stood his ground, pointing to a policy in the COVID-19 “restart plan” that had been mailed to parents and posted on the district website just before the school year started. The plan included a paragraph banning masks with any “political, religious, sexual, or obscene gestures or symbols.”

Funny thing is, that paragraph hadn’t been in the original “restart plan” document. And throughout the school year, students and teachers had worn masks with a variety of messages, including the Jackson State University logo, the New Orleans Saints logo, and “Black Lives Matter.”

None of them had been treated like Lydia was.

Even more bizarre, the school district didn’t announce this new ban to parents until the day after Jennifer spoke with the assistant superintendent. Jennifer knew she had to protect her daughter’s freedom. A young child like Lydia should never have to experience the fear of being punished for her faith. None of us should.

When someone recommended Alliance Defending Freedom to the Booth family, they reached out. And ADF agreed to take their case.

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