L.B. v. Simpson County School District
Description: Officials at a school in the Simpson County School District in Mississippi prohibited a 3rd-grade student from wearing a face mask with the message “Jesus Loves Me” on it.
Mississippi school district discards illegal policy, allows 3rd-grader to wear 'Jesus Loves Me' face mask
JACKSON, Miss. – After a federal lawsuit filed by a 3rd-grade student and her parents prompted the Simpson County School District to change an unconstitutional policy prohibiting the student from wearing a face mask with the phrase “Jesus Loves Me” on it, the district has now agreed to settle the suit. The end of the lawsuit, in which Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented the student and her parents, ensures that schools within the district will respect students’ freedom of expression regardless of religious viewpoint, as the First Amendment requires.
The student, Lydia Booth, wished to peacefully share her Christian views with her schoolmates by wearing her “Jesus Loves Me” face mask, but the principal at her school in the community of Pinola required her to remove and replace it even though she had previously worn the mask, without disruption or incident. Two days later, administrators announced a districtwide policy that 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.” As a result of the lawsuit, filed in November 2020, the district has changed its policies to be viewpoint-neutral for political and religious expression.
“Public schools have no business discriminating against a 9-year old for her religious expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “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.”
Under the settlement agreement, Simpson County School District will pay $45,000 and allow Lydia to wear her “Jesus Loves Me” face mask to school if she chooses to do so.
“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.”
In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a stipulation of dismissal Wednesday of L.B. v. Simpson County School District with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of the student and her parents.
Sharkey Burke, one of more than 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, served as local counsel in the lawsuit.
- Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-uhr)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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Michael Ross serves as legal counsel for the Corporate Engagement Team with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he assists in developing and implementing successful legal solutions and corporate engagement strategies to neutralize mounting corporate hostility to people of faith and to encourage corporations to respect free speech, religious freedom, and life. Ross previously served on the Center for Academic Freedom Team, defending the First Amendment freedoms of college students and student organizations on university campuses. Ross earned his Juris Doctor in 2016 from Vanderbilt Law School, where he served as president of the Christian Legal Society and executive authorities editor for the Vanderbilt Transnational Law Journal. He obtained B.A. degrees in mathematics and religious studies from Vanderbilt University in 2010. Ross is a member of the bar in Tennessee.
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.