During the past year, I wrote several blogs on these pages about Andrea Hernandez, an intelligent 15-year-old sophomore who was enrolled at the John Jay Science and Engineering Academy in San Antonio, Texas. (Ironically, John Jay, one of our nation’s exceptional founders, served as our nation’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I wonder what he would have thought about the plight of Ms. Hernandez.) Ms. Hernandez was expelled for her refusal to wear a school-mandated RFID (“spychip”) tracking badge. She objected to wearing the spychip based upon biblical teachings that equate accepting the spychip 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. Thus, she (and her family) objected because they considered the school district’s spychip program to be equivalent to the “the mark of the Beast” spoken of in Revelation, chapter 13. As a result of her failing to wear the spychip, she was suspended from her high school, and then went to federal court , where she won a preliminary injunction to continue her studies without the spychip until a final decision was made by federal Judge Orlando Garcia, a Clinton appointee. However, several months later, Judge Garcia ruled against Ms. Hernandez, saying that if she was to stay at her high school, then she must wear the spychip. The school district, recognizing that Ms. Hernandez was an otherwise serious and non-disruptive student, offered to allow her to wear the student identification badge without the spychip. However, Ms. Hernandez decided that such an “accommodation” would cause her to violate her integrity, and she refused. In his decision, 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.” (Importantly, 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, no matter how non-mainstream or even absurd it might seem to a non-believer. In this case, Judge Garcia, by declaring 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. But I digress.) On appeal, Judge Garcia’s decision was affirmed, and Ms. Hernandez was kicked out of her high school.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the school district said it would no longer require any of its students to wear the spychips. Ostensibly, the spychips were for the purpose of student attendance-tracking. Students with the spychips would be counted as present, because Texas state funding is tied to student attendance. However, school officials decided that the enhanced attendance did not justify the significant costs of the spychip program. School district spokesman, Pascual Gonzalez, said, “The lawsuit and negative publicity were part of the conversation, but not the deciding factor in ending the program.” As a result, Ms. Hernandez, who has been attending a different school, is now free to apply for readmission to her former high school. Her father, Steve Hernandez, was quoted, “My daughter Andrea and I are overwhelmed with happiness and joy.” John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, the Christian liberty advocacy group that represented Ms. Hernandez, said the decision to halt the spychip program proves that “the best way to ensure that your government officials hear you is by never giving up, never backing down, and never remaining silent.” For those of us who are signers of the Manhattan Declaration, that is a powerful testimony and reminder of what is required for Christian citizens in a republican democracy. Kudos to Ms. Hernandez and her attorneys, and continued success in your studies, Ms. Hernandez!