Protect Prayer, a student-led movement, organized in response to lawsuits filed against Bossier and Webster parishes accusing the district of unconstitutionally promoting Christianity. Wochit
The Webster Parish School District settled a federal lawsuit Friday with a mother who accused the district of unconstitutionally promoting Christianity.
The Webster Parish School Board approved the terms of the agreement last week, said Neal Johnson, one of the attorneys representing the Webster Parish School Board. The suit was filed in December by Christy Cole on behalf of her daughter Kaylee. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) aided in filing the case.
According to the consent decree, school officials are prohibited from promoting or participating in prayer. They are also prohibited from promoting their personal religious beliefs to students in class or at a school event. Further, school officials can’t plan or finance religious services for any school or group of students within the district, including baccalaureate.
In addition, school events must not be held at a religious venue if an alternative venue is available and reasonably suitable, according to the order.
“For our family, religion is a deeply private matter, and school officials have no business interfering with my daughter’s personal religious beliefs,” Cole said to the ACLU of Louisiana in a news release. “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.”
Students come together for prayer. (Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)
Webster Superintendent Johnny Rowland Jr. said the new policies will not infringe on students’ rights to religious expression.
“Recently, our board adopted policies that the judge approved and signed off on. What is very important to me as well as our school board is that in no way have our students’ rights to pray and to express their religious beliefs been infringed upon through the policies adopted,” Rowland said in a statement. “We are pleased that our students have every right to exercise their religious expression by every means that the United States Constitution allows.”
The Webster Parish School Board continues to deny Cole’s allegations, specifically those against the parish superintendent Rowland, Lakeside Principal Denny Finley and other district employees. Still, the district acknowledges their practices could be deemed by the court as unconstitutional, according to the court document.
“The Defendants admit that there is a factual basis to support a finding by the court that incidents have occurred violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the document reads.
Copies of the judge’s order must be provided to all school officials, and beginning in the fall of 2018, training will be given to all certified or professional school employees regarding the consent decree.
More: Mom sues Webster schools alleging promotion of Christianity
“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,” said ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton in a news release. “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.”
Cole filed the suit in December on behalf of her daughter, Kaylee, a junior at Lakeside Junior/Senior High School in Sibley.
The lawsuit stated that “the Webster Parish School District has a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian religious beliefs by sponsoring religious activities and conveying religious messages to students, including by broadcasting prayers daily over school speakers.”
Included in the suit were more than 30 specific incidents of allegedly unconstitutional use of religion in schools, including science teachers calling evolution a “fairy tale,” teachers waving a Bible at students while criticizing a card game and teachers punishing or criticizing students who refused to participate in classroom prayers.
A similar case accusing the Bossier Parish School District of unwanted and unconstitutional Christian messages and indoctrination was filed in February. According to recent court documents, the parties are discussing terms of a possible consent decree to resolve that case.
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Authored by Glen McStanly