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Teenager's Faith At Odds With Locator Tags In School IDs

Dec 17, 2012
Originally published on December 17, 2012 5:17 am

A federal court in Texas on Monday will take up the case of a high-school student who refuses to wear her location-tracking school ID.

The 15-year-old sophomore says the ID badge, which has an embedded radio frequency identification tag, is a violation of her rights. The student, Andrea Hernandez, believes the ID is "the mark of the beast" from the Book of Revelation.

Steven Hernandez says his daughter was alarmed this summer when John Jay High School in San Antonio informed families that new IDs would include the chips, which would help the school know electronically if the student was on campus.

"And she says, 'Daddy, I'm not going to do this.' And I said, 'Why aren't you going to do this, honey?' She says, 'Dad, that's exactly what it talks about in the Book of Revelation that you were teaching us about taking the mark of the beast. This is the exact same thing,' " Hernandez says.

The Hernandez family is evangelical Christian and attends John Hagee's Cornerstone Church in San Antonio.

"The mark of the beast is what the Antichrist is going to use so he can track the people," Hernandez says.

The Antichrist in his daughter's situation, Hernandez says, is Northside Independent School District.

This is where many parents would part ways with the Hernandez family. But even if they don't view school administrators as the Antichrist, some other parents do have privacy concerns about the tracking chips.

John Whitehead is a lawyer with the Rutherford Institute in Virginia, which fights government infringement of individual rights. Whitehead is representing the Hernandez family in federal court.

"They're just not going to do it. I deal with a lot of religious folks. Anything endorsing something they feel is unconstitutional or that violates their religion, they're just not going to do. So the easiest thing for the school here is to opt out," Whitehead says. "The problem is, when we got involved in the case and a lot of publicity erupted and a lot of other people have joined in now, so the school is probably going to fight this or the program itself is going to be up for grabs."

When Whitehead says the school should opt out, he means the school should let Andrea Hernandez opt out of having to carry the locator chip. That's something the district has offered as long as Hernandez still wears the new ID badge with no chip inside. But Andrea doesn't want to do that either. She wants to wear her old school ID.

For the school district, this is all about money. The state of Texas slashed funding to public schools by more than $5 billion. Districts all over the state, rich and poor alike, many exploding in population, are desperately underfunded.

"The school district receives federal funding based upon the number of students who are in attendance each day at school," says Craig Wood, the lawyer for the Northside Independent School District. "Given that we've got a crisis in educational funding in the state of Texas, we're trying to recapture every dollar that we can in order to try to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources."

The chip program is costing Northside $500,000, but the district expects to recover about $1.7 million more from the federal government. So that's $1 million worth of teachers Northside doesn't have to let go. The chips have been successfully introduced in a school district near Houston without fanfare.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, a federal court in Texas will take up the case of a high school student who refuses to wear her school ID. The ID has a radio frequency chip inside, which allows the school to locate students on campus. This 15-year-old says it is a violation of her rights. She says she believes the ID is the mark of the beast from the Book of Revelation. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has her story.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Steven Hernandez says when they got the letter this summer from John Jay High School, it was his daughter Andrea who protested loudest. The high school sophomore was alarmed that the school was issuing new ID badges that included radio frequency ID chips that would allow the school to know electronically if the student was on campus.

STEVEN HERNANDEZ: And she says, Daddy, I'm not going to do this. And I said, why aren't you going to do this, honey? She says, Dad, that's exactly what it talks about in the Bible, in the Book of Revelations, that you were teaching us a couple of months ago, taking the mark of the beast. She said, this is the exact same thing.

GOODWYN: The Hernandez family are evangelical Christians, members John Hagee's Cornerstone Church in San Antonio.

HERNANDEZ: The mark of the beast is what the Antichrist is going to use so that he can track the people.

GOODWYN: And when they asked who is the Antichrist in his daughter's situation...

HERNANDEZ: NISD, Northside Independent School District.

GOODWYN: This is where many parents would part ways with the Hernandez family. But even if they don't view school administrators as the Antichrist, some other parents do have privacy concerns about the tracking chips. John Whitehead is a lawyer with the Rutherford Institute in Virginia, which fights government infringement of individual rights. Whitehead is representing the Hernandez family in federal court.

JOHN WHITEHEAD: They're just not going to do it. Now, I deal with a lot of religious folks. Anything endorsing something they feel is unconstitutional or that violates their religion, they're just not going to do. So the easiest thing for the school here is to opt out. The problem is, when we got involved in the case and a lot of publicity erupted, other people have joined in now, and so the school is probably going to fight this for the sake that the program itself is going to be up for grabs now.

GOODWYN: When Whitehead says the school should opt out, he means the school should let Andrea Hernandez opt out of having to carry the locator chip, which the district has offered as long as Hernandez still wears the new ID badge, no chip inside. But Andrea doesn't want to do that either. She wants to wear her old school ID. So, loggerheads.

For the school district, this is all about money. The state of Texas slashed funding to public schools by more than $5 billion. Districts all over the state, rich and poor alike, many exploding in population, are desperately under funded. Craig Wood is the lawyer for the Northside Independent School District.

CRAIG WOOD: The school district receives federal funding based upon the number of students who are in attendance each day at school. Given that we've got a crisis in educational funding here in the state of Texas, we're trying to recapture every dollar that we can in order to try to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources.

GOODWYN: The chip program is costing Northside half a million dollars, but expects to recover about $1.7 million more from the federal government. So that's a million worth of teachers Northside doesn't have to let go. The chips have been successfully introduced in a school district near Houston without fanfare. This case goes to federal court today in San Antonio. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.