NEW ORLEANS, LA - The ACLU has sponsored another federal lawsuit today to stop the Tangipahoa Parish School Board from allowing the distribution of Gideon Bibles to students on school property during the school day. This legal action, on behalf of a parent and his child represents the fifth court case by the ACLU against the district for religious liberty violations over the past 13 years.
"School officials in Tangipahoa Parish habitually show disdain for the Constitution, while disrespecting the right of parents, who happen to be Catholic in this case, to choose the religious tradition in which to raise their children," according to Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "The key to religious liberty lies with the separation of church and government, which has served us well for over 200 years to minimize religious strife in this country."
Student Jane Roe attends Loranger Middle School and at one point during the regular school day, her teacher told the class to go and get their Bibles in front of the school office. There she found the entire fifth grade class lined up to receive a Bible from two men, who handed out each book and said "God bless you." With her classmates and teachers looking on, Jane accepted the Bible out of a feeling of coercion and fear that she would be criticized, ridiculed and ostracized.
The New Testament Bibles were published and distributed by Gideons International. School officials granted them access to the young, impressionable children, which apparently happens each year according to the teacher.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment requires government neutrality in matters of religion and non-religion to prevent tyranny by the majority," Cook goes on to say. "School officials who choose to ignore that fundamental principle, especially with children involved, act un-American and undermine the very freedom and democracy that makes this country great."
Past ACLU cases against the Tangipahoa Parish school district have involved the promotion of Biblical creation, distribution of pizza by a minister at lunchtime on school grounds, prayers over the intercom, at school sponsored events and at school board meetings and prayers led by a teacher in the classroom. The prayer at school board meetings is on appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and oral arguments are set for May 22, 2007.
Many people mistakenly believe that separation of church and state implies official hostility to religion. But, in fact, the opposite is true. The Founders' belief in the preciousness and sanctity of religious faith engendered their determination to protect religion from government interference. Religious liberty can only flourish if the government stays neutral and refrains from advancing or inhibiting religion.
Cooperating attorney Ron Wilson of New Orleans and Katie Schwartzmann, ACLU Staff Attorney, represent the plaintiffs.