BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - The Young Marines Program is getting lots of public support, and donations are pouring in after funding was stripped because of a prayer issue. Now, Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington is calling for a public rally in support of keeping prayer in the programs.
According to a release from the Bossier Sheriff's Office, attendees are invited to sign a pledge showing support for the "In God We Trust Campaign," and American flags will be available for those who wish to show their patriotism.
At issue is the withholding of $15,000 in federal grant money by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, after an audit of the Young Marines program noted the use of voluntary prayer and inclusion of God in the program's oath.
That's what the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement has a problem with. The commission is withholding the money because it says the mention of God and the voluntary prayer are "inherently religious activities."
"There's always been a tension between a country founded on religious principals and how much the government can get involved," says local attorney John Settle.
But Bossier Parish residents in general disagree.
"It kind of goes against what our government is founded on. We were founded on freedom of religion, and we don't get to do that now," says Caitlin Harris.
"I think it is terrible. I think that this is what is wrong with our country, that we are not allowed to pray anymore, and I myself have personally supported the sheriff," says Kay Nader.
With such support behind it, the program is taking steps to raise money and protest.
Settle says the group may have to be careful about how they do that.
"[Sheriff Whittington] may run into a problem if he is going to use public property to seek donations for a program designed where some people say it might be to promote religion."
The program is sanctioned by the U.S. Marines Corps and is partially funded by the commission that is now denying them the money.
"It is voluntary and not mandatory. That should make it OK in my book," says Margarite Harrison.
"I don't think they should have either because it seems like around here a lot of people are Christian," says Trevor Smith.
The sheriff's public rally is taking place between 1 and 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 4.