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Suit claims religion promoted in Louisiana school district

February 9, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For the second time in as many months, a north Louisiana public school district is accused in a federal lawsuit of promoting Christianity in violation of the Constitution.

This time the defendants are the Bossier (BOH’-zher) Parish School Board and the Bossier schools superintendent. A federal lawsuit filed by four parents says officials throughout the Bossier system coerce students into religious practices in class, at athletic contests, graduation ceremonies and other events.

“Although Bossier is home to children from a variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds and is constantly infused with diverse newcomers brought in by Barksdale Air Force Base, school officials throughout the Bossier Parish School System coerce students into religious practices and subject them to unwelcome religious messages and indoctrination,” the lawsuit says. It was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Shreveport by civil rights attorney Bill Quigley and attorneys with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The suit says teachers and school officials promote religious clubs and activities at schools. It says some teachers promote their religion in classes, praying aloud and requiring students to memorize prayers. One choir instructor selects mostly Christian songs for performances and has told students “she will not allow the choir to perform in venues other than churches,” according to the lawsuit.

Student athletes are subjected to extensive religious promotion by school staff, the suit says.

Among the examples: “At practice or in the locker room, football coaches have quoted scripture to motivate students and pressured students to attend church and mission trips with their teammates.”

Also, the suit says, at least one high school football team requires attendance at pre-game meals hosted by local churches.

Prayers, some delivered by students or faculty, are scheduled features of graduation ceremonies or school events. And teachers at some schools, while promoting their Christian believes, push their views on the origins of life, “praising creationism in class and attempting to discredit the scientific theory of evolution.”

The school system issued a statement saying it had not been served. “Obviously we will be entering into litigation; therefore, our legal counsel’s answers to the lawsuit will serve as Bossier Schools’ response,” spokeswoman Sonja Bailes said in the emailed statement.

Plaintiffs in the Bossier lawsuit are identified only as “Does 1-4.” The suit says they are using pseudonyms because they fear their children will be ostracized by some classmates if their identities are made public.

A similar suit, filed in December by the American Civil Liberties Union, is pending against the school board in neighboring Webster Parish. Both parishes are in northwestern Louisiana on the Arkansas state line.

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