WEBSTER PARISH, La. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed suit in federal court today challenging Webster Parish School District’s widespread practice of subjecting students to school-sponsored Christian prayer, proselytizing, and other religious rituals. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Christy Cole, a parent of a Webster Parish student, and her daughter, K.C., who attends Lakeside Junior and Senior High in Sibley.
“Deeply personal decisions about how and whether to practice religion should be made by families, not the government,” said ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton. “Webster Parish School District’s insistence on subjecting students to this kind of heavy-handed religious indoctrination is a clear violation of the Constitution, and has harmed our clients and the community as a whole.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, details pervasive promotion of religion throughout district schools. Christian prayers are broadcast each morning over the PA system. School events, including athletic events, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies, incorporate official prayer, proselytizing, and other religious messages. Graduation ceremonies are frequently held in churches, and at times they resemble church services that include Bible verses and prayers. School officials have also told students that evolution is a “fairy tale,” and implied that the Bible should be taken literally. The school has invited guests onto campus to preach to students, including Christian rapper Mynista.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the district’s policies and practices unconstitutional and to block the district from continuing them.
“In this country, religious freedom is paramount. Religion is not something you should be bullied into by the government,” said Ms. Cole. “As a parent, I was alarmed and offended that the school district would pressure my daughter into reciting prayers and participating in religious rituals that she doesn’t believe in. I believe that praying in public is a sin, and that our religious faith is between us and God. The government simply has no business strong-arming my daughter into practicing a certain faith.”
“Being subjected to unwelcome religious indoctrination should not be the price of getting a public education in Webster Parish,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU. “Webster Parish is a textbook example of why government-sponsored religious indoctrination is so harmful and why our country’s founders took pains to prevent it. The aggressive and pervasive religious proselytizing by Webster Parish School District has made our client feel unwelcome at her own school and shunned by her peers and teachers. This needs to stop, and we commend Christy and K.C. for standing up and fighting for religious liberty.”