On The Front Lines
School Officials Reject Request for Accommodation, Kick Andrea Hernandez Out of Magnet School Over Religious Objections to RFID Tracking Program
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a phone call delivered near the end of the day before a long holiday weekend, school officials at John Jay High School informed Andrea Hernandez that they would not be granting her request to stay at the magnet school. Effective today, Hernandez has been withdrawn from the school and will be expected to report to another area school on Tuesday.
In keeping with a court order to provide school officials with a written decision as to whether or not she will agree to wear an RFID tracking badge to school, Andrea Hernandez had asked school officials at John Jay High School to allow her to continue her “education uninterrupted” by permitting her to use her old ID badge which “does not signify participation in a program which I believe conflicts with my religious beliefs.” The new badges, part of John Jay High School’s “Student Locator Project,” include tiny chips that produce a radio signal, enabling school officials to track students’ location on school property.
Hernandez, who was threatened with expulsion for refusing to wear a chipless RFID tracking badge based on her sincere religious beliefs that it represents the “mark of the Beast,” had her request for a preliminary injunction denied by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Western District of Texas. In coming to Andrea’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys alleged that the school’s attempts to penalize, discriminate and retaliate against Andrea violate her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“It's obvious that John Jay High School has no interest in putting their students first, which is a sad reflection on our educational system,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “For our part, we hope that Andrea Hernandez will not be discouraged in her pursuit of justice. She’s a courageous young woman with strong principles, and we commend her for standing up for what she believes in. The case will definitely move forward now, and hopefully, we will eventually find justice in the courts.”
The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, has launched a program, the “Student Locator Project,” aimed ostensibly at increasing public funding for the district by increasing student attendance rates. As part of the pilot program, roughly 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School are being required to wear “SmartID” card badges embedded with an RFID tracking chip which will make it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts on campus at all times. School officials hope that by expanding the program to the district’s 112 schools, they can secure up to $1.7 million in funding from the state government.
Fifteen-year-old Andrea Hernandez has been penalized, discriminated against, and retaliated against by school officials for objecting to being forced to participate in the RFID program. 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.
Hernandez was informed that “there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card.” For example, students who refuse to take part in the ID program won’t be able to access essential services like the cafeteria and library, nor will they be able to purchase tickets to extracurricular activities. According to Hernandez, teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs to use the bathroom. School officials offered to quietly remove the tracking chip from Andrea’s card if the sophomore would agree to wear the new badge without the embedded RFID chip so as to give the appearance of participation in the Student Locator Project. Andrea refused the offer, believing that to wear the “mark” of the program would still compromise her religious beliefs. Affiliate attorneys Anand Agneshwar and Anna Thompson of Arnold & Porter and private practitioner Jerri Lynn Ward are assisting The Rutherford Institute with Andrea’s defense