BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - A religious liberties watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., announced Wednesday that is suing a Northwest Louisiana school board.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to stop the "widespread unconstitutional promotion of Christianity throughout Bossier Parish, La public schools," the group says in a news release.
The petition was filed on behalf of four Bossier Parish parents who feel their children's religious freedom has been repeatedly violated by Bossier School Board members, administrators, teachers and coaches.
The four parents are remaining anonymous to protect their children.
"Parents of all backgrounds should be able to put their trust in public schools to teach children reading and math – and to let families make their own decisions about faith," Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United, says in a news release.
"Unfortunately, that is not the atmosphere that Bossier Parish Schools provide. Even though the district educates a diverse community that includes all the people who come to the area to serve our nation at Barksdale Air Force Base, Bossier Parish school officials make one religion – Christianity – pervade all aspects of school life."
Americans United claims the violations have occurred in school classrooms and offices; at school-sponsored events, including choir concerts, football games and graduations; and through activities involving school-sponsored extracurricular clubs and athletic programs.
Children in all grades, kindergarten and preschool have been affected, according to Americans United.
The lawsuit claims that Bossier Parish schools violate students' religious freedoms by the following:
- School events held at churches, often in sanctuaries or other rooms replete with religious iconography. These events have included choir and band performances, kindergarten and middle school graduations, awards ceremonies and pregame meals for football players.
- School events, especially graduation ceremonies, often include prayers as part of the official program. Prayers may be delivered by students or by school officials, and the speakers often compel students and audience members to participate by standing, removing their caps and/or bowing their heads.
- Extensive promotion of religion within school athletic programs, including team devotionals; coaches distributing Bibles and other religious materials to student-athletes and pressuring them to attend church and mission trips; pregame prayers led by pastors in student locker rooms; prayers over stadium loudspeakers during games; and post game prayers led by coaches on the football field.
- Teachers proselytizing in classrooms, including requiring students to recite Christian prayers or leading them in prayers; using Christian-themed videos to teach health classes; and telling a student that one must believe in Jesus to be a good person.
- Official endorsement of Christian student clubs and community events, including teachers sponsoring Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs and encouraging students to participate by handing out promotional materials in class; promoting Bring Your Bible to School Day through banners in schools and bible verses read over an elementary school public-address system; and allowing local churches access to students during the school day to distribute religious materials and invite children to participate in religious activities.
- Teachers promoting creationism in class.
- Religious displays in classrooms and administrators’ offices.
- Choir performances that force students to sing almost exclusively Christian worship songs
"Bossier teachers, coaches and administrators have put students who aren't participating in these religious activities in an untenable position, making them targets for bullying and causing them to question their families' beliefs," Katskee says in a news release.
"Americans United has repeatedly asked the district to create a more welcoming environment that does not promote any particular faith or promote religion over non-religion. But school officials have refused to alter their practices. We now ask the courts to intervene on behalf of Bossier families who practice a variety of religions and faiths that deserve to be respected and protected."
The news release reads that Americans United first contacted Bossier School District last year on the behalf of a community member who said student-led prayers were held at Benton High School's 2017 graduation ceremony.
Americans United said the prayers were unconstitutional due to the fact that they "they communicated the School District's endorsement of a particular religion and coerced students to participate in a religious exercise."
The group went on to say that Bossier School District refused to end the graduation prayer practice.
Americans United says it contacted Bossier School District again in November. District officials never responded, the group says.