Teen discusses losing faith then suing over prayer in her school

Webster student speaks out about suing over prayer in school
Religion's imprint on Webster Parish is undeniable. (Source: KSLA News 12)
Religion's imprint on Webster Parish is undeniable. (Source: KSLA News 12)
Religion is "the foundation of who we are. That's why we live in this area; that's why we are here. That's why my address is in Webster Parish. It's because it's at the foundation of who I want to be," Greg Lee says. (Source: KSLA News 12)
Religion is "the foundation of who we are. That's why we live in this area; that's why we are here. That's why my address is in Webster Parish. It's because it's at the foundation of who I want to be," Greg Lee says. (Source: KSLA News 12)

(KSLA) - She says there is no escaping God in her school.

And although raised as a Christian, the teenager says the pressure to pray on campus has instead backfired and led to her losing her faith.

Now the Webster Parish student is an agnostic living in the heart of America's Bible Belt.

And for the first time, Kaylee Cole - a 17-year-old whose family contacted the ACLU upset over prayer at school - discusses why she has chosen to sue.

The ACLU recently targeted Bossier and Webster school districts over student-led prayers during school announcements and at athletic events.

Officials with both districts say they're doing nothing wrong.

Even Congressman Mike Johnson and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry have come up with the Louisiana Student Rights Review.

It's a 12-page document that provides students, teachers and administrators with guidelines on how they can express religion in public schools.

The imprint of religion on Webster Parish and, in particular, is undeniable.

At one intersection alone, there are no less than seven churches.

Greg Lee says that's part of the reason he calls Webster Parish his home.

Like his father and his grandfather, Lee grew up in rural Louisiana.

He's a banker by profession but sees himself more as a servant of God.

And in Webster Parish, he's not alone.

"It's the foundation of who we are. That's why we live in this area; that's why we are here. That's why my address is in Webster Parish. It's because it's at the foundation of who I want to be."

God and prayer are so fundamental to the community that their influence is visible in the halls of public schools.

And just like students at any other school in Webster Parish, those at Lakeside Junior-Senior High School in Sibley start their day with the pledge of allegiance.

But it's what they do afterward that makes it so different.

Students remain standing, reciting Christian prayers while Bible verses are broadcast over the school's public address system.

After Christmas break, that stopped.

"Whenever I started sitting down for the prayers, I could just feel every pair of eyes on me," said 17-year-old Kaylee Cole, a senior at Lakeside.

In Webster School District, she says, there's no getting away.

God is everywhere.

"Football games, they have prayers in them. Our pep rallies, sometimes they have prayers in them. Any sort of ceremony."

Fed up, Cole was pushed by her Mom to sue the school over what they call religious indoctrination. They are being represented by the ACLU.

School Distict officials declined to comment for this story.

But in their court response, they deny some claims and admit to others.

"A voluntary student-led prayer was delivered in the morning at Lakeside."

But school officials deny their actions were unlawful or unconstitutional.

"For somebody like me, and some of my friends I know ... it just kind of feels like, it does feel like a church," Cole said.

"When you walk into a classroom and you see want a change? Pray. And daily objectives, 'Love God. Worship God. Read the Bible.'  
"Doesn't it feel like that?"

Landry, Louisiana's attorney general, co-authored his religious freedom document in the shadow of a painting of Moses flanked by the scales of justice and a copy of the Holy Bible.

When asked if God has a place in public schools, he replied: "Well, God has a place, I believe, in everyone's hearts."

Even in public school?

"Even in everyone's hearts," the attorney general responded.

At the core of Webster Parish are its residents' longstanding Christian beliefs.

They are beliefs for which Lee says he's willing to fight.

Not just for the soul of Webster Parish, but for the soul of America.

"If you begin to tell me that my children do not have the right to pray in school, then that's an attack upon the relationship I have with my God and the relationship that they have with our God."

And that's a bond that they dare anyone to break.

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