A federal judge in Texas has issued a ruling that a student's religious objections to wearing a badge from a school ID program that utilizes radio chips to identify students and faculty and monitor their movements are secular, and therefore, not a concern to the school or court.
"Plaintiff's objection to wearing the Smart ID badge without a chip is clearly a secular choice, rather than a religious choice," wrote U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in a case brought by the Rutherford Institute on behalf of student Andrea Hernandez, who has been attending John Jay High School in the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio.
"The accommodation offered by the district … removes plaintiffs religious objection from legal scrutiny all together."
The court record shows that the Hernandez family "felt the chip in the badge was 'the mark of the beast' and had a religious objection to the 'tracking' of his daughter. Mr. Hernandez also believed that the card prohibited his daughters' 'rights' as a student," the judge wrote.
The family also objected to a deception suggested by the school, that Andrea would wear a badge like other students, but without a chip, because that would make it appear the family was part of the chip ID program.
"Predicated on our religious belief we cannot allow it to even appear that we support the program, Revelation 13:16, 17, 'He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and sllve, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.'"
That was the family's response.
"If we allow her to take the mark, in this case the [shell] badge it will appear that she is supporting wearing the mark and now she can participate in the economy of the school."
The judge ordered the student to tell the district "prior to the end of the current semester" "whether she intends to accept the accommodation being offered and wear the Smart ID badge without a chip."
He said, "If plaintiff refuses to wear the uniform badge issued to all students at Jay High School, even without a chip, the district may exercise its discretion and transfer plaintiff back to her home campus, where she can wear her old student ID badge," the judge said.
Rutherford attorneys say they will appeal immediately, because of the violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
"The Supreme Court has made clear that government officials may not scrutinize or question the validity of an individual's religious beliefs," said John Whitehead, chief of the Rutherford. "By declaring Andrea Hernandez's objections to be a secular choice and not grounded in her religious beliefs, the district court is placing itself as an arbiter of what is and is not religious.
"This is simply not permissible under our constitutional scheme, and we plan to appeal this immediately," the said.
The student, 15, "has been penalized, discriminated against, and retaliated against by school officials for objecting to being forced to participate in the RFID program," the legal team explained.
"For Hernandez, a Christian, the badges pose a significant religious freedom concern in addition to the obvious privacy issues. Andrea's religious objection derives from biblical teachings that equate accepting a personalized code – as a sign of submission to government authority and as a means of obtaining certain privileges from a secular ruling authority – with a form of idolatry or submission to a false god," her attorneys argued.
The magnet school's plan has some 4,200 students at John Jay High School and Jones Middle School wearing mandatory "SmartID" card badges embedded with an RFID tracking chip which allow school officials to track students at all times on campus.
Both Andrea and her father, Steven Hernandez, testified they believed the electronic system was a sign of the Antichrist described in the New Testament book of Revelation.
"No matter how many ways school officials attempt to justify this program, the key here, as NISD officials have themselves acknowledged, is the fact that this program is about one thing only – making money for the schools at the expense of students' constitutional rights and potentially their safety," Rutherford attorneys explained.
School officials contend that a continuous monitoring and tracking of students will reduce absences, and they will be able to collect an additional $1.7 million in funding from the state by the time the monitoring program is installed in the district's 112 schools.
The judge's decision rejected a request for a preliminary injunction to be in force while the case is litigated.
The judge noted that the chip "is not noticeable," and he claimed the badges "do not work off campus."
One of the additional rules is that students "are discouraged from leaving, forgetting or exchanging their badges," the judge said.