Nov 08, 2017

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today contacted officials at Bossier Parish schools to urge them to stop violating the Constitution through the widespread promotion and endorsement of Christianity throughout the school district.

In an 11-page letter sent to Bossier Parish School Board’s attorney Jon K. Guice, Americans United outlined numerous religious freedom violations that have been reported within Bossier schools. AU explained it is unconstitutional for the district to coerce students to participate in religious activities that may contradict the students’ beliefs.

“All students and their families should feel welcome in the public schools,” said Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United. “No students should ever be made to feel like second-class citizens in their own public schools because they practice a particular faith, or no faith at all. Yet that’s the type of exclusionary environment that Bossier Parish schools are creating by having officially sponsored religious practices pervade the school district.”

AU’s letter states: “To put it simply, parents – not school officials – have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children.”

Americans United previously wrote to the district, which is located in northwest Louisiana, on June 8 and Sept. 1, warning that student-led prayers at a May graduation ceremony at Bossier’s Benton High School were unconstitutional because the prayers at an official school event communicated the school district’s endorsement of a particular religion and coerced students to participate in a religious exercise.

In response to AU’s earlier letters, more members of the community have come forward to express concerns about an array of religious freedom violations at Bossier Parish schools, including:

  • School events held at churches, including mandatory middle-school choir concerts, kindergarten and middle-school graduation ceremonies and pre-game meals for football players.
  • Extensive promotion of religion within school athletic programs, including team devotionals, pre-game prayers led by pastors in student locker rooms, prayers delivered over a stadium loudspeaker and post-game prayers led by coaches on the football field.
  • Choir performances that force students to sing almost exclusively Christian worship songs.
  • Proselytizing in classrooms by teachers who required elementary students to recite Christian prayers, led elementary students in Christian prayers and told a student of the need for belief in Jesus in order to be a good person.
  • Official endorsement of religion, including teachers sponsoring Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs and encouraging students to participate by handing out promotional materials in class; promoting Bring Your Bible to School Day through banners in schools and bible verses read over an elementary school public-address system; and allowing local churches access to students during the school day to distribute religious materials and invite children to participate in religious activities. 
  • Teachers promoting creationism in class.
  • Religious displays in classrooms and administrators’ offices, including two large Latin crosses hanging in an elementary assistant principal’s office.

Americans United requested a response from the Bossier Parish School Board by Dec. 8 and has asked officials to outline how they plan to address the violations. AU also sent the district a public-records request for information relating to these violations.

The letter was written by Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, Senior Litigation Counsel Eric Rothschild and Legal Fellows John McGinnis and Alison Tanner.