Talk of the Antichrist and “the Mark of the Beast” couldn't sway federal district Judge Orlando Garcia. On Tuesday he denied a student's request for a permanent injunction to keep her in Northside ISD's John Jay High School, a science and engineering magnet school, without having to wear a student ID badge.
Sophomore Andrea Hernandez, 15, sued the district the day before Thanksgiving to fight her expulsion from the magnet school. Hernandez and her evangelical Christian family object to the district's “Smart ID” pilot program at John Jay, which puts radio frequency tracking chips in student IDs. They claim the badge is a precursor to “the Mark of the Beast,” as described in Revelation. In court last month, they repeatedly told Judge Garcia how the Antichrist would mandate such a mark in the End of Days to track and control his subjects.
After months of protest and complaints from the family, Northside officials offered Andrea Hernandez what they thought was a fair accommodation: she could stay in the magnet school if she wore the ID without the chip. The family refused, saying it would be a tacit endorsement of the program and a violation of their evangelical faith. They got the attention and backing of the civil liberties group the Rutherford Institute, which labels the district's accommodation “a chipless RFID tracking badge.”
Judge Garcia wrote that Northside's compromise “clearly passes constitutional muster.”
“Plaintiff has been wearing a student ID badge for several years,” he wrote. “She doesn't object to wearing her old ID badge, yet she objects to the new ID badge issued by Jay H.S. despite the fact that the chip has been removed.”
A Rutherford Institute attorney also argued in court last month that wearing the badge without the chip was “compelled speech” and therefore a violation of the First Amendment. Garcia says that argument, too, doesn't hold water. Even if Hernandez believed she'd be conveying a message of support for “the Mark of the Beast” by wearing the badge without the chip, “it is highly unlikely that such a message would be understood by others who viewed it,” Garcia wrote. Wearing an ID badge isn't expressive conduct that implicates the First Amendment – it's simply a means of identifying the person wearing it.
In court last month, the family's religious argument got a bit muddied with other broad concerns over privacy and monitoring of students. But Garcia, in his ruling, says that if they have objections over privacy, then their concern comes too little, too late. In recent years Northside has installed cameras in the halls of its high schools and middle schools, and is now in the process of installing them in elementary schools. The district's buses all have cameras installed.
“She does not object to the digital cameras on campus, which monitor the students' daily activities,” Judge Garcia wrote. “Nor did Plaintiff ever object to wearing a name badge while on campus – until now.”
Northside officials say the student will be moved to another school when the second semester starts Jan. 22. Or, to avoid being kicked out of Jay H.S., she could still take the district's offer – to wear the badge without the chip. Meanwhile, the Rutherford Institute says it plans to appeal Garcia's ruling.
“Mr. Hernandez testified that [Andrea Hernandez's] acceptance of the accommodation would 'put a smiley face' on the pilot program,” Judge Garcia wrote. “It would 'make a statement that [Andrea Hernandez] fell in line to support the program' and he 'would look like a fool.' The First Amendment does not protect such concerns.” – Michael Barajas