WEBSTER PARISH, La. – Webster Parish School District will no longer subject students to school-sponsored Christian prayer, proselytizing, and other religious rituals under the terms of a consent decree approved Friday by a federal judge. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed suit in December 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.
“This 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,” ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton. “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,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU. “This agreement affirms 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.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, detailed 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.
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 under the agreement.
"The consent decree is a binding court order,” explained Hamilton, adding, “We will be closely monitoring the school district’s compliance with it and will not hesitate to seek judicial sanctions against those who violate it.”