Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Student Loses Religious Challenge To RFID Badges After School's Accommodation Offers

In A.H. v. Northside Independent School District, (WD TX, Jan, 8, 2013), a Texas federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to a high school student who objected on religious grounds to wearing a Smart ID badge containing an RFID chip. The student's father claimed that wearing the badge would be the mark of the beast, and he had religious objections to the school tracking his daughter. The school superintendent offered to accommodate the student's religious beliefs by allowing her to wear the badge with the RFID chip and its electronic components removed.  The student and her family still refused, saying that wearing the badge would give the appearance that they supported the program.  The school said that the student's other alternative was to withdraw from the science and engineering magnet school she was attending and return to her regular high school where none of the identification badges contain RFID chips.

In an extensive opinion, the court rejected plaintiff's free exercise, free expression, due process and equal protection claims.  The court said that even if strict scrutiny applies under the 1st Amendment, as it does under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that standard has been met. Plaintiff has not shown that the badge imposes a substantial burden on her ability to exercise her religion; the government has shown a compelling interest in requiring the badges; and the school has offered plaintiff an accommodation that should remove any objections. It also concluded that wearing the badge is not expressive conduct, and even if it is it passes constitutional muster.  Wired reports on the decision, as does the Rutherford Institute  (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: The Jan. 10 San Antonio Express-News reports that an appeal to the 5th Circuit has been filed in the case.