Americans United for Separation of Church and State secured a huge win today on behalf of students and families in Bossier Parish, La., after reaching a settlement agreement with the school board that ensures protection for all students regardless of their religious beliefs.
The settlement, which includes policy changes approved by the school board last week, will end a more than yearlong legal dispute over the promotion of Christianity in Bossier public schools.
“This historic settlement is a victory for all Bossier families, and will ensure that children feel welcome and included in their own schools, regardless of what religion they do or don’t practice at home,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Bossier Parish allowed religious coercion to proliferate throughout their schools – that system will no longer exist and rigorous protections that are enforceable by law have been put in place for all students. We are thrilled that Bossier Parish Schools are now fulfilling the promise of religious freedom for all of their students.”
On Feb. 7, 2018, Americans United filed a federal lawsuit, Does v. Bossier Parish School Board, on behalf of several Bossier Parish parents concerned about their children facing religious coercion from public school administrators, teachers and coaches. Multiple religious freedom violations had occurred, including school events being held at churches or involving prayers as part of the official program; extensive promotion of religion within school athletic programs; teachers proselytizing in classrooms; and religious displays in classrooms and offices.
On Jan. 14, 2019, the Bossier Parish School Board approved a revised religious expression policy and agreed to a settlement with AU, which was filed with the federal district court today. Provisions of the settlement include:
- The historic creation of a monitoring committee to review and resolve potential violations or disputes involving religious freedom.
- An agreement from the board to create, expand or seek out appropriate facilities to minimize the need to hold school events in houses of worship.
- A commitment to protecting the rights of all Bossier students to pray in school, as long as the prayers are initiated by students, aren’t disruptive and don’t occur during class time.
- Permission for Bossier teachers to teach about religion in an objective manner, but not proselytize students.
“As a result of our lawsuit, there is now a substantial mechanism in place for the next 12 years to oversee and ensure that Bossier Parish Schools comply with the law and protect the religious-freedom rights of all students and their families,” said Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United. “Nothing like this has ever been done before to safeguard religious freedom in public schools. Americans United is committed to a sustained presence in Bossier to ensure that the Constitution is being upheld.”
Katskee and AU Legal Fellows Alison Tanner and Sarah Goetz are leading negotiations for Americans United, with assistance from Louisiana attorney William P. Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, and pro-bono counsel from Arnold & Porter, Kent Yalowitz, Daniel Bernstein, Eliseo Puig and Holly Leeser.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.