Last week the Webster Parish School District agreed that it would no longer subject students to school-sponsored Christian prayer, proselytizing, and other religious rituals.
The agreement, approved by a federal judge, is a victory for all students at Webster Parish School District who now have the right to pray – or not to pray – free from interference or coercion from school officials.
The court order is the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the ACLU of Louisiana on behalf of a Christy Cole, a parent of a Webster Parish student, and her daughter, K.C., who attends Lakeside Junior and Senior High in Sibley.
K.C. and her classmates were subjected to pervasive promotion of religion throughout district schools. Christian prayers were broadcast each morning over the PA system. School events–including athletic events, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies–incorporated official prayer, proselytizing, and other religious messages.
Graduation ceremonies were frequently held in churches, and at times resembled church services with Bible verses and prayers. School officials have also told students that evolution is a “fairy tale,” and that the Bible should be taken literally.
This kind of heavy-handed and aggressive religious proselytizing is an affront to religious freedom and a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed to every student under the Constitution.
That is why we filed suit to affirm the First Amendment rights of students to be free from government-imposed religious indoctrination.
“For our family, religion is a deeply private matter, and school officials have no business interfering with my daughter’s personal religious beliefs,” said Ms. Cole. “I don’t want any student to have to go through what my daughter did, and I’m hopeful that because of this agreement, no student will.”
Under the consent decree, Webster Parish School District is prohibited from promoting prayers during school events, organizing religious services for students, unnecessarily holding school events at religious venues, and allowing school officials to promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Webster Parish will also provide faculty training and education on the school’s obligations.
Christy Cole and her daughter stood up for all students’ religious freedom, and this agreement is a testament to their courage and conviction that students and families, not government bureaucrats, have the right to decide how and whether to pray.
None of us should live in a world where the government decides what religion students follow or dictates how they pray. Moving forward, we will be closely monitoring the school district’s compliance and will not hesitate to seek judicial sanctions against those who violate it.