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Texas school ID tracking debate: ACLU and Christian fundamentalists join forces

HOTtopic041212_optBY REBECCA SHEEHAN
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

High school can be a fun, but also very difficult time in a teenager’s life. It’s the time when being popular is at the top of every students priority list as well as making the best grades imaginable in order to secure an acceptance letter to a prestigious college. A time where you are free to express yourself in hopes of learning what type of career path you may take. However, in the San Antonio, Texas school district, free is exactly what students are not thanks to the newly embedded tracking microchips in student ID cards.

The Associated Press reports that in the fall of the 2013-2014 school year, the San Antonio school district on two of its campuses will be experimenting with “locator” chips in student ID badges. These badges will allow school administrators to use GPS-like precision to track the whereabouts of close to 4,200 students.

According to the Associated Press, 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez aggressively opposes this plan, arguing that it is sacrilegeous to her Christian faith, and in her own words, the “mark of the beast.” The teenager's negative response to the so-called SmartID led to her removal from high school and opened a debate over privacy and religion forging a collaboration between two typically opposing groups, as detailed by the Associated Press.

"How often do you see an issue where the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and Christian fundamentalists come together? It's unusual," said Chris Steinbach, the chief of staff for a Republican state lawmaker who has filed a bill to outlaw the technology in Texas schools.

The school tried to reach middle ground with the Hernandez family by allowing the removal of Andrea’s chip, but still required her to wear the badge. Unfortunately, based on religious grounds they refused stating to the Associated Press that still wearing the badge was the same as “submission of a false god,” still representative of her participation.

Virginia-based civil rights group, The Rutherford Institute, agreed with and took up Hernandez's cause by filing a lawsuit against the district. The organization’s founder, John Whitehead, believes the religious component of the lawsuit makes it stronger than if it only objected on grounds of privacy. The lawsuit cites scriptures in the book of Revelation, stating that "acceptance of a certain code ... from a secular ruling authority" is a form of idolatry.

A spokesperson for Northside Independent School District, Pascual Gonzalez, stated that the SmartIDs were instituted with safety and efficiency in mind.

"Nobody is sitting at a bank of monitors looking for the whereabouts of 3,000 students," Gonzalez said to the Associated Press. "We don't have the personnel for it, nor do we have the need to do that. But when I need to find (a student), I can enter his random number and I can find him somewhere as a red dot on that computer screen. 'Oh, there he is, in Science Room 22' or whatever. So we can locate students, but it's not about tracking them."

The Hernandez hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled after the school district asked for the case to be heard in federal court, reported the Associated Press. At this time, a new hearing is yet to be scheduled.

 

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