Written by Don Byrd

A lawsuit filed earlier this week in Louisiana claims that Webster Parish school officials engage in numerous violations of church-state separation by using school personnel and resources to promote Christianity. The ACLU initiated the case on behalf of Christy Cole and her child, K.C., a student in Webster Parish schools. The filing claims school officials engage in “pervasive religious indoctrination.” Because of her Baptist beliefs and values, Cole objects to the promotion of religious favoritism by government. She “believes her daughter and all students should be able to attend public school without exposure to government-sponsored religious practices and messages, and without harassment for their religious beliefs.”

The complaint paints a picture of public education in Webster Parish that is filled with religious rituals and promotion, leaving Cole’s daughter alienated and pressured.

So engrained is official promotion of religion at Webster Parish schools that virtually all school events—such as sports games, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies—include school-sponsored Christian prayer, religious messages and/or proselytizing. Graduation ceremonies are frequently held in houses of worship, and at times they resemble religious rituals that include Bible verses and Christian prayers.

K.C. has felt and feels coerced, both directly and indirectly, to participate in religious activities and expression that did not and do not comport with her personal beliefs. She feels that she has been subjected to unwelcome indoctrination.

K.C. has been mocked by teachers for questioning religious doctrine they espoused, and she feels ostracized among her peers for her recent acts of dissent and because she does not share the religious beliefs promoted by her teachers and the school. She feels the negative judgment of her peers, and she feels as if she does not belong in her own school. Her experience of her schools’ religious practices has made her depressed, exhausted, upset, and distraught.

For more, see coverage by Salon’s Amanda Marcotte and the ACLU’s page devoted to the case.