BOSSIER CITY, La. (KSLA) — A high school newspaper’s blank front page is saying volumes about the struggle between free speech and the separation of church and state.
The Bossier Parish School District pulled the photo from the front page of the Askalada just hours before the Airline High newspaper was to go to print last week.
But it’s how those student-journalists responded that’s attracted much of the attention.
Randy Brown, publisher of the Bossier Press Tribune, got the call last week . And it was direct.
The message: Hold the presses and don’t use the photo on the front page, the one with the words “I love Jesus” adorned on a tree ornament.
And when word came to replace the photo, Brown recalled, students decided to keep Page 1 blank.
“I love what they did. I even put it in my column, ‘Hooray, good for you,' said Brown, whose operation prints the Airline High newspaper.
"Now I think it’s neat, number one, that they’re taking that stand, that it means so much to them to take that stand.”
Brown said he doesn’t blame the School District, given the recent legal settlement regarding anything with the appearance of endorsing religion.
The School District’s statement about the Airline High newspaper said as much:
“Counsel advised that an alternate photograph be used. The decision to run a blank cover page was not that of the school or the School District.”
Atheist author and national advocate Hemant Mehta said this has nothing to do with censorship.
“A student expressing their Christian beliefs is not a problem,” he explained. “The issue is not that a student was expressing his or her Christian beliefs. The question is, is the public school promoting Christianity?”
That’s why Mehta said he supports the district’s decision.
A similar response came from the group that settled with the School District.
Richard B. Katskee, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote:
"We appreciate that school officials correctly recognized that a school-sponsored newspaper promoting Christianity to a diverse student body would make non-Christian students feel unwelcome in their own school."
KSLA News 12′s Jeff Ferrell spent some time during lunch rush at a neighborhood diner near Airline High.
And to a man, they all said the same thing:
They supported using the “I Love Jesus” photo and the blank front page for the December issue of Airline High’s student newspaper.