The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Features

December 3, 2012

Was a Texas student really expelled for refusing to wear a tracking chip?

The Texas school district that began requiring its students to wear radio-frequency identification (RIFD) tracking chips this year is now facing a fight in federal court. A sophomore, Andrea Hernandez, has refused to wear the ID tag on biblical grounds, comparing it to "the mark of the beast." Last week, attorneys for the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group, announced that they're filing suit in federal court to keep Hernandez from being expelled.

The case has set privacy activists ablaze, and hackers claiming affiliation with Anonymous joined the fight recently by targeting the school district's website with a denial-of-service attack.

But those demonizing the district have ignored one key fact that could keep the case from being the big test of religious freedom, student privacy and government surveillance that some media reports are making it out to be. The school isn't actually expelling - or suspending, as some outlets have it - Hernandez for refusing to wear the electronic tracking chip. District officials have repeatedly offered to let Hernandez come to school wearing an identification card from which the RFID chip and battery have been removed.

"We have to respect their religious beliefs," district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told me in a phone interview. "So we said, 'All right, if this is objectionable to you because it violates your religious beliefs, then we will not put the RFID technology in the card. But you still have to wear the ID card like every other student at school.' Daddy said no, and the student said no." Gonzalez denied a report that the compromise came on the condition that Hernandez agree to stop criticizing the program and publicly support it. "That's just untrue," he said.

The really interesting question is whether the school's RFID tracking program violates students' privacy. But that might be a tough case to make in court, given that we're talking about minors on school grounds. And the school's compromise offer also takes the steam out of claims that it has punished or harassed Hernandez because of her refusal to be tracked. The school's students use the ID chips to check in at the front door, buy lunch and vote for the Homecoming king and queen, but Gonzalez said Hernandez could do all the same things with the chip removed. "We were very explicit with her and her family that all of the access and services that she would have gotten with RFID would still be available via this non-RFID card," Gonzalez told me.

By framing her objections primarily in terms of religious liberty, Hernandez has won from the school a concession that renders the privacy issue moot. So her lawyers at the Rutherford Institute have to make the case that an even ID badge with no tracking capabilities runs counter to her Christian principles, as they claimed in the motion they filed in federal court last week.

Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead told me that, according to the Hernandez family's beliefs, "any kind of identifying badge from the government is the mark of the beast, which means that you pay allegiance to a false God." Adding that many Muslims and Jews hold similar beliefs, Whitehead predicted, "This is going to be a problem across the country."

No doubt Whitehead is right that we're likely to see more battles over RFID in schools in the years to come. But in the broader national debate over technologies that make government surveillance easier and more pervasive than ever, the religious-freedom issue is a red herring. These tags aren't the mark of the beast - they're the mark of a society grappling with troubling tradeoffs between convenience, security and privacy.



 

1
Text Only
Features
  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • This Weekend in Stanly County

    After a week at work, weekends are a good time to get out into the fresh air on these long, balmy summer days. Stanly County offers plenty of places for you to do just that.

    July 29, 2014

  • Ruth Moose Author inks book deal from 26-year-old draft

    After 26 years tucked away in a drawer, one might think the story had grown stale, that it had sat in the dark too long to be revived into something palatable.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Uwharrie Players No. 1 Anyone know whodunit?

    So whodunit?
    Forget Col. Mustard, the library and the candlestick, this time it was the drama student in the Jesse F. Niven Center with the bottle of poison.
    At this year’s Uwharrie Players Drama Camp, campers took the stage not just to act, but to figure out who poisoned Gladdis, the talent scout.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Kudzu Quiche A Bonus in Study of Invasive Species

    High School students who chose to study invasive species during their week at the National Environmental Summit at Catawba College probably didn't think they'd be baking a kudzu quiche. But they did, and they served it, along with other kudzu creations, at the final festival.

    July 19, 2014

  • Pottery No. 1 Wheel of Clay

    Rome wasn’t built in a day and a potter wasn’t made in one either, Seagrove potter Sid Luck, 69, said at his pottery class at the Niven’s Center Tuesday.

    July 15, 2014 3 Photos

  • Archie Smith Psaltery Sounds

    About two years ago, Archie Smith got into an argument with his table saw.
    As he says, the table saw won.

    June 30, 2014 3 Photos

  • P1160049_zps0528ec83.jpg Jammin' at Junior's

    Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “ … in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If Franklin was alive today in western Stanly County, he would need to amend his statement to include “and Friday night jam sessions at Junior Harris’.”

    June 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • KelliePickler_TheWomanIAm_LPCover.png Kellie Pickler set to release album with limited edition vinyl pressing

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Black River Entertainment announced the release of a limited edition vinyl version of country music singer/songwriter Kellie Pickler’s critically-acclaimed current album, The Woman I Am.  This is the first vinyl album for Kellie Pickler, and it features exclusive cover art, different from the CD version.

    June 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • wedding (12 of 21).tif Fairy Tales Can Come True

    Once upon a time in Stanfield a little girl was born, but experienced problems during her delivery. Five years earlier, a little boy was born in Georgia with similar complications. Both suffered a brain bleed during child birth and had ventricular shunts placed in their heads.

    June 16, 2014 3 Photos

House Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Featured Comment
Twitter Updates
Seasonal Content
Poll

Will you participate in March Madness?

Yes I watch the games and complete a bracket.
Yes I complete a bracket.
No
     View Results