“We pray at school functions and probably break the law all the time!!”

This Bossier Parish, La., public school teacher was right: There is widespread, unconstitutional promotion of Christianity throughout Bossier Parish Schools.

In Bossier Parish, almost every school event is opened with a prayer. Many of these events – elementary school graduations, middle school choir performances or high school awards ceremonies – are held in local churches. In order to participate in school athletic programs, students must participate in team devotionals, listen to their coaches quote Bible verses and accept the religious literature they distribute.

In the classroom, teachers have required their students to memorize and recite prayers, and have instructed children that one must believe in Jesus to be a good person. Teachers and coaches also encourage participation in religious student clubs and promote religious events held on- and off-campus. Latin crosses and scripture are displayed in classrooms and offices.

Despite our repeated efforts to get Bossier school officials to change – Americans United sent two letters to the Bossier Parish School Board and superintendent asking them to bring their schools in line with the First Amendment and create a more welcoming environment that does not promote any particular faith or promote religion over nonreligion – Bossier Parish school board members, administrators, teachers and coaches have continued to proselytize students and coerce them to participate in religious exercise. Bossier Parish Superintendent Scott Smith has said that his school district will not stop its unconstitutional practices “until we are instructed by a higher authority to reverse our district’s stance.”

That’s why today Americans United filed a new lawsuit in federal court, asking for “a higher authority” – a federal judge – to step in and protect Bossier’s parents’ and students’ rights to make their own decisions about faith. In Does 1-7 v. Bossier Parish School Board, we represent four parents whose children’s religious freedom has been repeatedly and blatantly trampled.

Bossier Parish’s public schools serve students from a wide array of backgrounds, both religious and nonreligious, in part because Barksdale Air Force Base is located within the school district.

Parents should be able to put their trust in public schools to teach kids what they need to know about reading and math – and to let families make their own decisions about faith. Bossier teachers, coaches and administrators have put students who aren’t participating in religious activities in an uncomfortable position, making them targets for bullying and causing them to question their families’ beliefs.

Putting students in a position where they have to choose between what they’re being taught by their parents about faith and what their teachers and schools are teaching them is wrong. No children should ever be made to feel like second-class citizens at school because of their or their families’ faith or belief. Americans United is proud to stand up for Bossier Parish’s public school families, and demand that the Bossier Parish School Board and superintendent follow constitutional law.

If you are concerned that your school district or community is not respecting the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom and church-state separation, you can report a violation to our legal department, which will review your concerns.