In a Texas lawsuit pitting a student’s religious freedom against a San Antonio school district seeking the power to track the whereabouts of all students on campus electronically, religious freedom has lost.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has ruled that the Northside Independent School District can force Andrea Hernandez to transfer from the specialized science and technology magnet school she attends because she refuses to wear a microchip-laden badge, reports the San Antonio Express-News.
Hernandez, a 15-year-old student at John Jay High School’s magnet school, and her family oppose the radio frequency-enabled badges on religious grounds. They say wearing the badge is the equivalent of accepting the Book of Revelation’s “mark of the beast” that symbolizes submission to the Antichrist.
“It is our Hell Fire Belief that if we compromise our faith and religious freedom to allow you to track my daughter while she is at school, it will condemn us to hell,” Andrea’s father, Steven Hernandez, wrote in a letter to district officials in the fall.
At a hearing before the judge, the elder Hernandez choked back tears as he read passages from the Bible and described the depth of his religious conviction in a hearing on the case. Forcing his daughter to wear a badge, he told the court, “would compromise our salvation for NISD to make some money.”
After the hearing, Steven Hernandez told the Express-News that “in this case, Northside is the Antichrist.”
At the same hearing, Andrea told the judge that she would suffer if she were forced to transfer because Taft High School, her neighborhood public school, does not offer the computer-related courses she wants to take.
“I earned my way into this school,” Hernandez said, according to WOAI-TV. “And for them to kick me out because of my religious beliefs is unfair for them to do.”
The family filed its lawsuit in November alleging violations of her constitutional rights after the school district told Hernandez she would have to attend Taft High if she did not wear the badge.
The identification cards are part of a pilot program. Since this fall, all students at John Jay High School have been required to wear or carry embedded badges at all times while at school. Electronic readers installed in the schools’ ceiling panels then constantly track every student’s location at school.
The new electronic tracking system is primarily a means of maximizing funding. If schools can prove that students are, in fact, on campus, they receive more state funding, Northside Superintendent Brian Woods had previously testified in court.