Written by Don Byrd

School board officials in Louisiana’s Webster Parish agreed to terms of a settlement in a lawsuit alleging widespread promotion of religion by school personnel in violation of the religious liberty rights of students to be free of religious coercion. While not admitting to any wrongdoing, the agreement – which must be provided to all school officials and used as the basis for training all professional employees – adopts a new set of policies and guidelines regarding religious expression including prayer by school officials.

The Shreveport Times has more:

According to the consent decree, school officials are prohibited from promoting or participating in prayer. They are also prohibited from promoting their personal religious beliefs to students in class or at a school event. Further, school officials can’t plan or finance religious services for any school or group of students within the district, including baccalaureate.

In addition, school events must not be held at a religious venue if an alternative venue is available and reasonably suitable, according to the order.

“For our family, religion is a deeply private matter, and school officials have no business interfering with my daughter’s personal religious beliefs,” [plaintiff Christy] Cole said to the ACLU of Louisiana in a news release. “I don’t want any student to have to go through what my daughter did, and I’m hopeful that because of this agreement, no student will.” 

As the quote above indicates, the plaintiff parent did not bring this challenge as an atheist or someone who is opposed to, or offended by Christianity. She is herself a Christian, who prays every day, she says, “but doesn’t want her child forced to follow suit.” That is a beautiful and courageous example of a key religious liberty principle: when religion is not voluntary, both the church and the state suffer. Pressing Christianity on school children does faith no favors.

The decree permanently enjoins school officials from “promoting, advancing, endorsing, participating in, or causing prayers during or in conjunction with School Events for any school within the school district.” Further, school officials are barred from “planning, organizing, financing, promoting, or otherwise sponsoring in whole or in part a Religious Service, including baccalaureate, for any school or any group of students in the school district.”

A separate lawsuit in Bossier Parish is still pending, but the parties are reportedly discussing terms of a settlement.