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WPSB answers religion lawsuit

Webster Parish school officials have submitted their answer to the widely reported lawsuit filed by Christy Cole in December that accuses the public school system of promoting Christianity.

Filed on Jan. 10, the formal response takes an unyielding stance, denying almost every piece of information found in the 24-page lawsuit. The answer calls for a judgment “dismissing Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice and at Plaintiff’s cost.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cole and her high-school daughter, claims that the parish school district “has a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian religious beliefs…” and outlines numerous examples of this behavior.

Written by the Monroe law firm Hammonds, Sills, Adkins and Guice, the formal response devotes 15 pages solely to addressing these examples cited in the lawsuit. The answer says that defendants “deny that any of their actions were unlawful or unconstitutional” over 60 separate times.

Though the school system denies any actions were unconstitutional, two of the numerous practices cited by Cole have been discontinued. The broadcasting of prayers through the PA system ceased at Lakeside Junior/Senior High and Central Elementary School at different times. In addition, signs with religious messages on a classroom wall at Lakeside have been removed.

The response begins by outlining a series of affirmative defenses before addressing specific allegations.

“Defendants specifically deny any liability in this case… and further deny that Plaintiff is entitled to any of the relief requested in her Complaint,” the opening defense reads.

The answer goes on to say that “they did not deprive Plaintiff of any constitutionally protected rights.”

Another issue the response takes with the lawsuit is the delay in coming forward, claiming many of the allegations are invalidated by statutes of limitations.

“Plaintiff’s allegations of sporadic and isolated incidents involving third parties and those who are now deceased over a 14-year period have impaired Defendants’ ability to respond, and such claims are barred by the doctrine of laches.”

The school system claims Cole did not give them a proper chance to respond.

“If such alleged actions did occur, which is not admitted, Plaintiff failed to call same to Defendant’s attention so that such issues could be addressed promptly,” reads the response. “Rather, Plaintiff intentionally delayed for such a period of time as to deprive Defendant of the ability to respond.”

The Cole lawsuit, filed Dec. 18, was picked up by CNN in a feature article and video. Several of the examples of school proselytizing in Cole’s lawsuit were shown in the article, including the wall signs at Lakeside that were removed after the story ran.

Below are several examples of alleged religious promotion cited by Cole and the manner in which the school system responded to each:

  • School-sponsored prayer at Central Elementary School – Defendants claim it was discontinued after a complaint from Cole, but lawsuit asserts that prayer “stopped temporarily but later resumed in the same manner.”
  • Bodybuilding group Team Impact giving Christian messages at school events – School board describes it only as a “message of clean living and morality.” Lawsuit asserts that Team Impact wants “to infuse communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” per their website.
  • Christian rapper proselytizing at school assemblies – Lawsuit claims the assemblies was mandatory for students and rapper Mynista performed Christian lyrics and encouraged students to turn to God. Defense claims Mynista was only brought in “in an effort to counsel students about the dangers of drugs and other vices” and any Christian messages were done without any direction from the school system.
  • Lakeside teacher showing films like “God’s not Dead” in class – School board admits to this, but justified it as “solely a supplement to the parenthood and adult responsibility curriculum.”
  • In-class videos from the series “Veggie Tales” at Stewart Elementary – Lawsuit describes videos as “cartoons of anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables who convey Christian religious messages, such as through their retelling of Bible stories.” Defense dismissed these allegations as “nothing more than a partial quote from Wikipedia’s description of the subject cartoon.”