Caddo Parish principal accused of violating First Amendment

Caddo Parish principal accused of violating First Amendment
The community is split on Hardison's letter.
The community is split on Hardison's letter.

CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - One Caddo Parish school principal is in hot water after a complaint was filed to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding a letter that was sent to parents.

The complaint alleges principal Albert Hardison violated the First Amendment.

Hardison reportedly included a reference to Philippians 4:13 in the March

that went to parents and staff.

The newsletter read:

Dear Parents:

As our students prepare to take the state mandated tests, LEAP, iLEAP and PARCC, please pray that our God will give them the strength and mental fortitude, the patience, the wisdom, and the energy to do their best. Please help our children understand the meaning of Phillippians 4:13...I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

KSLA News 12 was told the person who filed the complaint doesn't have a child at Walnut Hill but is reportedly afraid that if it's happening at one school, it could spread throughout the parish.

On Monday the ACLU of Louisiana's executive director, Marjorie Esman, sent an

to Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree saying walnut Hill "has engaged in a pattern of religious proselytization by sending messages to parents invoking prayer, and through a lengthy 'Principal's Message' on the school's website."

The letter stated that Hardison's messages "must stop immediately."

"No school employee may tell a student what religion to practice or even to practice religion at all, nor may a school official tell students or their families to teach any religious texts," Esman wrote.

"This unlawful religious coercion is improper from any school employee but it is particularly egregious coming from the school Principal, whose job is to teach and uphold, rather than violate, the legal rights of all," she went on to say.

Esman concluded by urging Goree to remove religious references from Walnut Hill's website and any other school in Caddo Parish, educate school staff regarding Constitutional protections of students and staff from religious indoctrination and instruct Hardison that neither he nor his staff may include religious references in school communications.

Tuesday afternoon, Caddo Parish Public Schools issued the following statement:

Caddo Parish Public Schools has commenced an internal investigation into an open letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. The district will certainly look into it and make certain there is no violation. In this instance, questionable materials subsequently have been removed from district webpages while the investigation continues. If there is a violation, we will make certain we act swiftly to ensure we do not have any further violations. Caddo Parish Public Schools works to ensure no constitutional rights are violated at any school. We take concerns and complaints seriously and make sure to follow the law.

At the same time, the district remains committed to protecting student freedoms. This includes their abilities to lead and participate in prayer and other religious activities, and we will equally continue to work to ensure student freedoms are not inhibited. Staff training will be scheduled in the coming weeks to refresh staff members regarding constitutional freedoms as well as limitations.

This topic has the ArkLaTex community split. Hundreds have taken to social media to express their support or disapproval of Hardison's message.

"Mr. Hardison is a great principal with great beliefs. My kids went to Walnut Hill and I will support him the staff, students and school. Wish there were more principals like him," Jodi Childers Larsen wrote on the KSLA News 12 Facebook page.

Others like James Litvak felt quite differently, writing, "If a Muslim teacher sent home a note asking the parents to pray to Allah for their kids to pass the tests, they'd be labeled a terrorist and there would be a mob with pitchforks assembled at the school."

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