Both sides make views known
On December 18, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Webster Parish School Board on behalf of a parish parent and daughter, alleging unconstitutional and widespread promotion of Christianity in schools.
Since then, the public reaction around Webster Parish has been strong and frequent. When the Press-Herald posted its coverage of the news on Facebook, the post quickly received more comments than any other article on the page since August. The online article is one of the Press-Herald’s most-viewed posts in months.
The ACLU filed on behalf of Christy Cole and her daughter, who attends Lakeside Junior and Senior High School in Sibley. Cole cites dozens of examples of the school allegedly “promoting and inculcating Christian religious beliefs.” These examples include daily prayers over the school speakers.
Much of the public response indicates widespread disapproval of the legal action taken by Cole. Most comments range from disagreement to outright condemnation.
Dola Godfrey of Minden voiced her reaction to the news in a follow-up interview after commenting on the Press-Herald’s article on Facebook.
“While I understand the idea of separation of church and state, I don’t believe it’s targeting student-led prayer on campus,” Godfrey said. “Those students who want to pray should be allowed to pray. Those who don’t pray or feel it’s wrong to pray in school should go on about their day.”
Even if they may have to adjust to comply with the law, Godfrey said she encourages students and community members to continue exercising their right to pray.
“Our community needs to stand up and let it be known we will not stop praying, even if we have to take a few steps away from campus,” she said.
In addition to broadcasted prayer, the lawsuit claims school events such as pep rallies, assemblies, athletic events, and graduation ceremonies incorporate official prayer, proselytizing, and other religious messages. Graduation ceremonies are held in churches, students are told evolution is a “fairy tale,” and a Christian rapper spoke at one school, according to the suit.
Not everyone who voiced an opinion was fully against the lawsuit, however. Alaine Thomas, originally from Shongaloo, said freedom of religion must go both ways.
“In order to keep our own freedom of religion, we have to be respectful of others’ freedom of religion,” she said. “It’s especially disturbing to think another child is being singled out for his or her beliefs.”
Thomas cited her own beliefs as an example of how a public institution might isolate one Christian belief system by recognizing another.
“Even amongst Christians, beliefs vary,” she said. “My family is Eastern Orthodox, for example. We’re Christians, certainly, but we don’t pray like the newer denominations like Baptists or Methodists.”
Thomas said perhaps putting prayer in schools is not the Christian thing to do after all.
“None of these denominations pray the same way or even believe the exact same thing about Jesus or the Bible itself,” she said. “Christianity is so fractured. What I hear when people say ‘Put God and prayer back in our schools’ is ‘Put my idea of God and my way of praying back in our schools.’ And quite frankly, that’s a very selfish and un-Christian line of thought.”
If the ACLU lawsuit succeeds in putting a stop to alleged religious proceedings in Webster Parish schools, Thomas said this outcome would increase freedom of religion, not hinder it.
“Freedom of religion prevents the government from establishing and/or endorsing any state religion,” she said. “This includes on federal and state grounds and public schools. Even though some may feel this infringes upon their religious rights to practice their own faith, in reality it protects the right for all to practice their faith.”