In a victory for religious freedom, 11-year-old Lydia Booth of Mississippi can now wear her “Jesus Loves Me” mask to school, after school officials, who had claimed masks expressing religious beliefs were banned under the district’s COVID-19 policy, agreed to a settlement in her two-year-long lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which began in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, was initiated after then-third grader Lydia entered her elementary school in Simpson County School District wearing a mask that read “Jesus Loves Me.”
Lydia’s school, under a mask mandate, allowed many of Lydia’s fellow students to attend class wearing masks that donned a variety of words, phrases, and political causes across their faces, including the New Orleans Saints logo, the Jackson State University logo, and even Black Lives Matter.
As for Lydia, she selected a mask with bright pink letters that served as an opportunity to share her faith.
In another interview, she explained, “It makes me feel like I’m protected by Jesus. And it makes me think people will think it’s a great mask, and that Jesus is a great God, and a great Savior,”
While Lydia was on the way to the school cafeteria, however, a teacher informed her that she was not allowed to wear a mask with words on it. According to the lawsuit, Lydia had worn the mask to school previously with no objection, and other students regularly wore masks with words on them. It also noted that other students raised no issue about her mask as it caused no “disruptions.”
On a podcast interview with the Daily Signal, Lydia’s mother, Jennifer Booth, recounted the incident: “The principal calls me, and she’s like, ‘We’re going to have to have Lydia swap her mask out,’” Booth said, adding that the principal cited school policy as prohibiting “religious symbols or gestures” on her mask.
According to the school handbook, however, only “drug culture, profanity, [and] obscenities” were listed as prohibitions from school attire. Even more, the district’s policy explicitly stated that it “recognizes a student’s right to free speech provided it is exercised in a manner which is not prohibited by law nor disrupts the educational process.”
“I’m sorry,” Booth told the principal, “but everything that I’m reading here does not put Jesus in any of those categories. You’re going to have to show me something. You can’t just decide you’re going to censor my child.”
Searching for answers, Booth continued to contact officials of Simpson County School District to ask for an explanation. Eventually, she was told by the assistant superintendent that it was the school district’s COVID-19 policy that Lydia was in violation of by wearing her “Jesus Loves Me” mask. The district provided Booth with a copy of the policy, but upon further investigation, she discovered that the policy had been modified less than an hour before it was emailed to her to include a new violation for students wearing masks with “religious” or “political” statements.
“It went from talking to the principal and it being about the dress code then, all the way up to the superintendent, they modified the policy to a ban on religious speech,” Booth said.
After reaching out to Alliance Defending Freedom, Lydia’s mother took action against the school district, with ADF filing a lawsuit on behalf of Lydia and her parents.
“This year is the mask; next year is the T-shirt. Eventually, you can’t say Jesus’ name in school,” Booth said.
After two years of ongoing litigation, ADF and the Mississippi school district have reached a settlement. In a statement by ADF, the district agreed to “retract its previous restriction on masks that have ‘political’ or ‘religious’ content.” Now, the school “will allow Lydia to wear her ‘Jesus Loves Me’ face mask to school if she chooses to do so.”
“Public schools have no business discriminating against a 9-year old for her religious expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross in the statement. “Other students within the school district have freely worn masks with the logos of local sports teams or even the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Lydia deserves and will now have an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”
The victory in this lawsuit not only recognizes Lydia’s and other students’ First Amendment right to express their religious views at school, but it also demonstrates the effect of parental rights in action. ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, explained:
“No public school student should be singled out for peacefully sharing her religious beliefs with fellow students. 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.”
Radical left-wing adults who demand assimilation into their subjective moral landscape are willing to do anything to accomplish their tyrannical, bigoted goal to separate Christianity from the public square — even if it means steamrolling a third grader to do it. Time and time again, they disregard the law, the Constitution, and their own integrity to get Christians to sit down and shut up. We’ve seen this with cake artist Jack Phillips, and now with elementary school student Lydia Booth.
As school districts and activists across the country work to hinder the influence of parents in their children’s lives, this case demonstrates exactly why it is necessary for parents to be involved in their children’s education. Had it not been for the determination of Lydia’s mother to question, investigate, and fight against this effort to silence her daughter over her beautiful faith in Jesus, the draconian school administrators would have gotten away with quelling Lydia’s First Amendment rights.
The Mississippi school district ultimately had no choice but to settle the lawsuit because their unconstitutional decision-making was an outright attack on Lydia’s God-given right to express her religion.
But it should be of no surprise that the school would willfully ignore the Constitution and instead target a little girl wearing a “Jesus Loves Me” mask. We don’t even have to wonder if they would have done the same to a student wearing a “Black Lives Matter” mask because students in Lydia’s school did wear masks with that expression and were never told to replace it.
At the heart of this matter is a hatred for Christianity and a hatred for truth. We never hear of schools, cake shop customers, or the activist media expressing outrage over a Muslim expressing his or her religious views or a Wiccan proselytizing astrology.
This is not just an issue of religious freedom and discrimination. It is an issue of the school district exchanging the truth for a lie. Christ warned that if the world hates you, understand that it hated Him first (John 15:18) for telling the world what it doesn’t want to hear, and Lydia became a catalyst for that hate by her school.
As shameful as it may be, thank God that organizations like ADF exist to advocate for those who have been ostracized by those who should know better. Unfortunately, there are many more Christians like Lydia currently facing the same hatred, as well as others who will soon face it. As Christians we must recognize it as a modern form of persecution designed to break down our faith and resolve, and we must pray daily for those who are targeted for their belief in Christ.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.