March 2015 Church & State | People & Events

The recent suspension of a public school principal after a flap over a school-sponsored Christmas play sparked a 200-person rally in a small Louisiana town.

Kendria Sanders, principal of Gold­onna Elementary-Junior High in Natch­i­toches Parish, was suspended for 10 days following a complaint concerning the school’s Christmas play.

The holiday pageant featured student-led prayer, religious songs and a student portraying Jesus hanging on a cross.

Dale Skinner, superintendent of Natchitoches Parish Schools, said he had previously made it clear to Sanders “what was legal and what wasn’t” regarding religion in school.

“If she had asked me about it we might could have worked around it,” Skinner told the Shreveport Times. Skinner added that he has briefed educators on what the First Amendment does and does not allow in terms of prayer in schools.

Despite taking action, Skinner made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the current law concerning prayer in school.

“We were reported and we had to stop immediately,” Skinner told the Times. “It appears they can do whatever they want no matter what you and I think.”

In response, some town residents held a rally for prayer in a church parking lot.

“I hope this goes from church to church,” said Goldonna Baptist Church Pastor Jason Womack. “[T]his is not just about Goldonna, but about bringing God first and foremost back into our hearts.”

The Times reported that a town alderman and six pastors spoke at the rally. One of the religious leaders broke ranks a bit. The Rev. Mike Hon­zell, pastor of a Baptist church in the nearby town of Campti, reminded the crowd that parents hold the chief responsibility when it comes to the religious upbringing of children.

The district has had problems with religion before. In May of 2014, attorneys with Americans United wrote to education officials there after receiving a complaint that an elementary-junior high school was sponsoring morning prayer and punishing students who did not take part.

Observed AU’s letter, “It has long been the case that schools may not force students to listen to prayers in the classroom, let alone force students participate in those prayers. Nearly fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited a public school from ‘requiring the selection and reading at the opening of the school day of verses from the Holy Bible and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer by the students in unison.’”