On these pages, I recently wrote about Andrea Hernandez, a 15-year-old sophomore at a science and engineering magnet school in Texas, who was threatened with expulsion for failing to wear a school-mandated RFID spychip tracking badge. (Here is the original blog). Ms. Hernandez equated the use of the spychip and continuous monitoring by school authorities with the “mark of the beast” spoken of in Revelation 13:16-17. As a result of her failing to wear the spychip, she was suspended from her high school, and went to federal court winning a preliminary injunction to continue her studies without the tag until a final decision was made by federal Judge Orlando Garcia.
Judge Garcia, a Clinton appointee, issued his decision earlier this week, and ruled against Ms. Hernandez, saying that if she is to stay at her high school, then she must wear the spychip. The school district, recognizing that Ms. Hernandez was an otherwise serious student who is not disruptive, offered to allow her to wear the student identification badge without the chip. However, Ms. Hernandez presumes that such an “accommodation” would cause her to violate her integrity. Otherwise, Judge Garcia ruled that if she refuses to wear the spychip, then she can transfer to a new school. Judge Garcia wrote, “[Ms. Hernandez’s] objection to wearing the Smart ID badge without a chip is clearly a secular choice, rather than a religious choice. . . The accommodation offered by the district removes [her] religious objection from legal scrutiny all together.”
Ms. Hernandez, through her attorneys at the Rutherford Institute, said she will appeal Judge Garcia’s decision immediately based upon violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Interestingly, it is a basic principle of American jurisprudence that government officials may not scrutinize or even question the validity of an individual’s religious belief, not matter how non-mainstream or even absurd it might seem to a non-believer. In this case, Judge Garcia, by declaring that Ms. Hernandez’s objections to be a secular choice and not grounded in her religious beliefs, ironically placed himself as the ultimate arbiter of what is or is not “religious” to Ms. Hernandez.
In the meantime, what is clear is that Ms. Hernandez has been penalized and discriminated against by school officials who object to her sincerely held religious beliefs, by being forced to participate in the district’s spychip program. I went to high school a number of years ago, but in my generation and at my high school, few of us would have worn the spychip in protest, whether Christian or not. I will continue to monitor this interesting story as developments warrant.