Mississippi School District Reverses Policy Banning ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Mask After Lawsuit

By Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor covers news and features throughout the United States. Send him your story ideas: matt.mcgregor@epochtimes.us
January 26, 2023Updated: January 26, 2023

A Mississippi school district has agreed to change its religious speech policy that forbade a third grader from wearing a mask bearing the words “Jesus Loves Me.”

In October 2020 when mask mandates in schools were widespread, the principal of a school in the Simpson County School District in Pinola, Mississippi, told third grader Lydia Booth she could no longer wear her mask expressing her Christian views, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious freedom legal organization.

Two days later, the administration issued a policy prohibiting messages on masks that were “political, religious, sexual or inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.”

According to the lawsuit (pdf), the school’s censorship of Booth’s religious message—and the religious speech policy on which that censorship was based—violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“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 in a press release at the time. “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. Other students within the school district have freely worn masks with the logos of local sports teams or even the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’ This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”

Jennifer Booth, Lydia’s mother, attempted to show the administration that there was no policy in the school handbook that restricted her religious freedom, and that her daughter’s speech was in fact protected under the Mississippi Student Religious Freedom Act and the First Amendment, the ADF said.

The school responded with its COVID-19 response plan that included the retroactive change of its ban on face masks with religious messages, which was announced the next day to schools throughout the district.

As a result of the lawsuit ADF filed in November 2020, the Simpson County School District has changed its policy to be “viewpoint-neutral for political and religious expression,” the ADF announced on Wednesday.

“No student should be singled out for peacefully expressing her religious beliefs,” said ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer, 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.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the Simpson County School District for comment.

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