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ACLU files suit against school’s religious activities

Associated Press, USA
Apr. 14, 2004
Jessica Bujol, Associated Press Writer • Wednesday April 14, 2004

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The ACLU filed suit Tuesday against the Bossier Parish School Board and the principal of an elementary school, alleging the school is violating the First Amendment by sponsoring a teacher-led prayer group and other religious activities.

”There are a number of issues associated here, but they all boil down to endorsement and promotion of religion in the public schools by school officials,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana chapter.

The suit was filed in federal court in Shreveport on behalf of the parents of a second grader and fifth grader at Stockwell Place Elementary. The children, whose names were not made public, told their parents they were being teased because they refused to participate in activities like Christmas caroling at nursing homes. The family is ”not of the majority religion”, Cook said, and declined to elaborate.

Both children were sent to a computer lab while their classmates practiced religiously themed carols, Cook said.

”That makes a child feel left out, like an outsider at their own school,” he said.

Cook said that the school also displayed a nativity scene in the library during the holidays, a time when the teasing escalated. The parents, Sandra and David McBride, met with the school’s principal and were told the children needed to learn how to deal with being teased, Cook said.

”That’s not the role of public school officials. Their role is to keep the schools inclusive and secular and to make children from all different religious backgrounds feel welcome and to teach tolerance. Instead, they’re doing just the opposite and teaching intolerance,” he said.

The parents approached the ACLU and filed suit as a ”last resort” after meeting with school officials several times, Cook said.

”Belief and faith are important. The promotion of prayer and religion, however, belongs in the home and places of worship chosen by the parents, not in the public school,” the McBrides said in a statement.

Both the Bossier Parish School Board and the principal’s office were closed by the time the suit was filed late Tuesday afternoon. Attempts to reach Superintendent Ken Kruithoff and Stockwell Place Elementary Principal Timothy Thompson for comment were unsuccessful.

The suit also takes issue with a group called ”Stallions for Christ” which promotes ”Christian fellowship and prayer”, Cook said. The group, named after the school’s mascot, meets during recess and is led by a teacher.

When the McBrides met with Kruithoff about the group, he defended it, saying ”This is the way things are done in the South” and ”Welcome to the Bible Belt”, according to the suit.

School officials also sponsored a Drug Abuse Resistance Education graduation that included a student-led prayer, religious songs and speeches that ended with the words ”God bless you”, according to the suit.

The suit seeks to prevent the school from displaying religious materials and put an end to school-sponsored religious activities, but it is not about singling out the promotion of one religion, Cook said.

”It would be wrong, no matter what religious belief were being advanced at the school,” he said. ”They have to be neutral, they can neither enhance nor deter religion.”

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