In the fall of last year the San Antonio Northside School District in Texas announced that they would track students with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips in their student badges.
One student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was suspended for refusing to wear the tracking device and took the matter to court.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in favor of the school district claiming they have the right to expel Hernandez for refusing to abide by school requirements. By default the judge ruled that the school had the right to force children to be treated like cattle while on campus.
The program, called the “Student Locator Project,” is aimed at increasing student attendance rates presumably to boost in public funding for the district.
“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute when he took the case.
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. (Source)
The primary defense was not to challenge the obvious privacy issues involved with the badges, but to seek a religious exemption. The judge ruled that the badge is “not grounded in her religious beliefs” and is a “secular choice rather than a religious concern.”
“The Supreme Court has made clear that government officials may not scrutinize or question the validity of an individual’s religious beliefs,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, in a statement.
“By declaring Andrea Hernandez’s objections to be a secular choice and not grounded in her religious beliefs, the district court is placing itself as an arbiter of what is and is not religious. This is simply not permissible under our constitutional scheme, and we plan to appeal this immediately,” he added.
The court originally agreed to block the suspension to hear the case, but would not extend that request for the appeal process.
“In coming to Andrea’s defense, Rutherford attorneys have alleged that the school’s attempts to penalize, discriminate and retaliate against Andrea violate her rights under Texas’ Religious Freedom Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” said Rutherford’s lawyers.