ACLU sues Webster Schools

Lawsuit aims to stop daily prayers Lakeside, others

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the Webster Parish School Board alleging unconstitutional and widespread promotion of Christianity in schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of Christy Cole, a parent of a Webster Parish student, and her daughter, who attends Lakeside Junior and Senior High in Sibley.

The lawsuit alleges “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.”

Named as defendants in the suit are the district school board, Superintendent Johnny Rowland and Lakeside Principal Denny Finley.

Rowland declined to comment Monday afternoon saying he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

“Deeply personal decisions about how and whether to practice religion should be made by families, not the government,” ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton said in a release. “Webster Parish School District’s insistence on subjecting students to this kind of heavy-handed religious indoctrination is a clear violation of the Constitution, and has harmed our clients and the community as a whole.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, details what the ACLU describes as “pervasive promotion of religion” throughout schools in the district.

At Lakeside, Christian prayers are broadcast each morning over the PA system, the ACLU claims. The organization also claims at school events, including athletic events, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies, incorporate official prayer, proselytizing, and other religious messages.

The ACLU also cites graduation ceremonies being held in churches, telling students evolution is a ‘fairy tale’, and invited Christian rapper Mynista to speak at one school.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the district’s policies and practices unconstitutional and to block the district from continuing them.

“In this country, religious freedom is paramount. Religion is not something you should be bullied into by the government,” Cole said in the release. “As a parent, I was alarmed and offended that the school district would pressure my daughter into reciting prayers and participating in religious rituals that she doesn’t believe in. I believe that praying in public is a sin, and that our religious faith is between us and God. The government simply has no business strong-arming my daughter into practicing a certain faith.”

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