Freedom of Expression | Student Speech

Student Can Wear ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Face Mask; Mississippi School District Settles Lawsuit

A screenshot from the Simpson County School District’s COVID “Restart Plan.”

By Susanna Granieri

A Mississippi public school district agreed to retract a policy in a settlement Jan. 25 after it violated a third grader’s First Amendment right to wear a face mask to school with “Jesus Loves Me” written on it.

Lydia Booth, or L.B., was an elementary school student at Simpson Central School, (SCS), in October 2020 when her principal requested she remove her mask and replace it with another. Two days later, the district announced a revised policy outlining appropriate types of masks.

Lydia Booth, wearing the “Jesus Loves Me” mask that she wore to school at her family’s farm in Braxton, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of the Alliance Defending Freedom

As a result, Lydia’s parents, Jennifer and Matthew Booth, sued the school district in November 2020 for violating their daughter’s First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, argued that Lydia has a First Amendment right to wear her mask, and because of the district policy, was “self-censoring her speech” out of fear of “escalated discipline” that could lead to suspension.

“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” the complaint stated, referencing the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in which the court held schools cannot sanction student speech unless it causes disruption to the learning environment.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Booth family by the Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), a conservative legal advocacy group which describes its mandate as “committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God’s design for marriage and family.” 

The district’s revised policy referenced a statement in its COVID “Restart Plan” which prohibited the wearing of masks with “political, religious, sexual or inappropriate statements” on them. ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom and lead attorney in the suit, said the “Restart Plan” didn’t originally include the statement about speech on masks.

Jennifer Booth was initially contacted by SCS Principal Antoinette Woodall about her daughter Lydia’s mask, according to the lawsuit. But when Jennifer found no policy prohibiting it, she emailed school officials requesting that Lydia be allowed to wear her mask.

Jennifer received no response, the lawsuit states, and sent a follow up email to the district and Assistant Superintendent Robert Sanders. 

“All I ask is for the district to apologize to my child; for making her feel like representing her faith is wrong; and allow her to wear her very unoffensive and positive belief if she so chooses without it being an ordeal,” the email stated in part. “You can ask anyone around that knows us personally; [L.B.] loves her JESUS and He loves her as the mask states!”

Sanders contacted Jennifer shortly after, stating the plan was posted to the district’s website before the start of the year prohibiting the religious speech on Lydia’s mask. But, the version he emailed Jennifer was edited minutes before the two spoke, according to the lawsuit.

ADF legal counsel Michael Ross said the “new district-wide policy banning all religious speech on masks” did not exist until Lydia’s incident. Even if the policy “was not enacted to target Lydia, [it] is altogether unconstitutional,” Ross wrote in a statement to First Amendment Watch.

“The First Amendment is clear that schools cannot single out students for their speech, particularly religious speech,” Ross said. 

In addition to removing the clause in the “Restart Plan,” the district also agreed to pay $45,000 in attorney’s fees.  


Jan. 25, 2023 — Stipulated Dismissal 

Nov. 2, 2020 — Complaint: L.B. v. Simpson County School District

Oct. 15, 2020 — District-Wide Mask Policy