Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed Does 1-4 v. Bossier Parish School Board on Feb. 7, 2018, to ensure that families – not Bossier Parish school officials – decide how children learn about faith.
Public school students in Northwest Louisiana’s Bossier Parish experience blatant, widespread violations of their religious freedom on a regular basis. Despite Bossier’s diverse community that includes Barksdale Air Force Base, many of the district’s school board members, administrators, teachers and coaches unconstitutionally promote Christianity to the district’s 23,000 students.
Many school events open with a prayer, and many of these events are held in churches. Joining school athletic programs often means more prayers – some led by coaches or pastors – plus coaches quoting Bible verses, distributing religious literature and urging student-athletes to go to church. Classroom teachers have taught creationism and required students to recite prayers. Teachers and coaches also promote religious student clubs and off-campus religious events. Religious items are displayed in classrooms and offices.
Bossier teachers, coaches and administrators have put students who aren’t participating in these religious activities in an uncomfortable position – making them targets for bullying and causing them to question their families’ beliefs. Parents of all backgrounds should be able to put their trust in public schools to teach children the essentials like reading and math while letting families make their own decisions about faith.
A community member concerned about students being coerced to participate in student-led prayers during a May 2017 Bossier high school graduation ceremony brought the violation to the attention of Americans United. We contacted Bossier’s school board and superintendent in June 2017 and again in September, but the district refused to end the graduation prayer practice.
After learning of Americans United’s intervention, more community members contacted us and described a broad range of religious freedom violations occurring in Bossier schools. AU again contacted the district about these concerns in November 2017; the district did not respond.
In the face of the district’s refusal to offer a learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming to students of all faiths and no faith, Americans United filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 7, 2018, in the U.S. District Court in Shreveport, La. Does 1-4 v. Bossier Parish School Board represents four parents whose children attend Bossier schools and who believe that it is their right and responsibility, not the school district’s, to oversee their children’s religious education. The parents are remaining anonymous to prevent further ostracism of their children.
Families and students in Bossier Parish Schools practice a variety of religions and faiths. It’s important that we respect and protect all of their rights.