Written by Don Byrd
A significant religious liberty dispute is developing in Louisiana, where plaintiffs in both Webster and Bossier Parish allege school officials have engaged in sweeping violations of students’ constitutional rights by promoting Christianity through school activities and functions.
Unfortunately, many residents have concluded that protecting their Christian faith means fighting for the right of coaches, teachers and administrators to engage in such conduct. But, as Bruce Hamilton from the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana writes in a column for the Shreveport Times, the opposite is true. Protecting students’ religious liberty rights – including their right to prayer and exercise their own faith – requires a learning environment that is free from religious coercion or proselytizing by school officials.
Students’ right to pray in school should be protected. Despite what some are saying, we don’t hate Christmas or religion, and we’re not trying to take prayer out of schools.
We support students’ rights to express and exercise their faith in public schools. These rights include, among others, the ability to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive, as well as the right to express their religious beliefs in reports, homework and artwork where those beliefs are germane to the assignment. We’ve defended students’ rights to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates, and to wear clothing with religious messages.
What we don’t support, and what the Constitution forbids, is allowing government officials, including public-school staff, to impose prayer on students, or to otherwise use their access to students to promote their personal religious beliefs.