Mothers protect their children.
Not only is this a natural inclination of mothers but a cross-cultural and even cross-species truth. Hikers know not to stand between a mother bear and her cubs. Bird-watchers know never to get near a mother bird protecting her hatchlings.
Most mothers can think of a moment where their protective instinct kicked in, and they knew they needed to stand up for their child.
For Jennifer, that moment came when she picked up her daughter, Lydia, from school one afternoon last fall.
Banned from wearing a ‘Jesus Loves Me’ mask
“Mama, I’ve got bad news,” said Lydia after school.
The nine-year old then told her mom, Jennifer, that her computer lab teacher had warned her against continuing to wear her favorite mask to school. The issue? It had the words “Jesus Loves Me” printed on it. Lydia loves the words—they make her feel safe. She had the mask custom-made by a family friend.
“She just said it,” Lydia remembers her teacher’s admonishment, “a little angry, but not much. She told me not to wear it again. Not to wear that kind of mask, with words.”
Something seemed off. Jennifer’s motherly instinct kicked in.
Back at home on their family farm, Jennifer poured through all the school’s regulations—she looked at the official handbook, letters, directives on COVID, everything. “I couldn’t find anything that specified anything to do with masks,” she said, “so I assumed they’d go by the dress code.”
But when she checked the dress code, there was nothing that would have banned Lydia’s “Jesus Loves Me” mask. In fact, there was a section about protecting students’ freedom of speech.
Jennifer decided that this must have been a mistake. So, she sent Lydia back to school with the same mask.
That’s when Jennifer received a call from the principal.
The principal told Jennifer that Lydia couldn’t wear her “Jesus Loves Me” mask to school, saying that “you can’t have religious or political things on masks at school.”
That was news to Jennifer who not only had researched all the schools’ policies but had asked friends and members of the school’s staff if they’ve ever heard of such a rule—they had not.
Together, over the phone, both the principal and Jennifer flipped through the handbook. “I know it’s in here,” the principal said. But there wasn’t anything except a rule against obscene words and gestures.
“I’m sorry,” Jennifer said, “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.”
A mother defending her daughter
Jennifer kept searching for answers. She found nothing about religious messages on masks on the school district website. She did, however, find that the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act guaranteed students like her daughter the freedom to express their religious views.
She sent an email to the school district’s superintendent sharing her findings. “I want you to apologize to [Lydia] for making her feel bad, like she’s done something wrong,” it read.
That afternoon, Lydia climbed into the car wearing a different mask. She was upset. “Mama,” she said, “they made me change masks. And it is against the rules.”
“No, Baby,” Jennifer told her. “It’s not. And Mama’s going to take care of it. You didn’t do anything wrong, okay?”
Jennifer wasn’t about to back down.
She wasn’t about to allow her little girl to be censored and then made to feel like she was the one in the wrong. At the advice of a fellow parent, Jennifer reached out to the assistant superintendent directly.
Here’s where things get even more interesting.
After Jennifer sent an email inquiring about Lydia’s mask situation at school, the assistant superintendent called her. He said that while the rule about no words on masks was not in the handbook or dress code, it did appear in the school’s restart plan, which he sent to Jennifer in an email.
Jennifer knew something was off about this. A technology expert, she decided to use her skills to investigate this document. It turned out, the restart plan that was archived on the district’s website was different than the one the assistant superintendent sent her. And the only difference was the sentence about words on masks. Even worse, the document he sent her had been modified just before she spoke to him on the phone.
“He had literally modified this document to include the information he needed to make himself right,” Jennifer said. She realized she was dealing with people willing to “run over a 9-year-old” to protect their legal position.
That’s when Jennifer called on the help of Alliance Defending Freedom to help Lydia get the justice she deserves.
Good mothers are good examples
Some may ask: why go to all this trouble over a “Jesus Loves Me” mask?
Well, Jennifer Booth is a wonderful example of a good mother. She didn’t want her child to feel as if she was being punished for the completely harmless and even admirable act of expressing her faith. She didn’t want her daughter’s right to free speech to be violated by the very teachers entrusted with instructing Lydia about her rights as an American.
But it goes way beyond her desire to protect Lydia in the here and now.
Jennifer wants to set a good example that will help her daughter do the right thing in the future.
“I want my kids to know that, one day, Mama and Daddy are not going to be here,” Jennifer says, “and they’ve got to stand up to this stuff, too. It’s probably going to be a lot worse. And I want them to be so strong in their faith that they take it head-on. And don’t back down.”
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