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SHREVEPORT, La. – A federal district court today approved a consent decree requiring the Sabine Parish School Board to cease a variety of unconstitutional practices that impose religion on students at Negreet High School and other Sabine Parish Schools.
The consent decree, a court order agreed to by both parties, ends a lawsuit filed in January by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana on behalf of a Buddhist sixth-grader of Thai descent, "C.C.," who was harassed by staff and students because of his faith.
"No child should feel that a teacher is trying to impose religious beliefs, and this agreement ensures that this will no longer be the case at Sabine Parish schools," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "We’re glad the school board worked with us to bring this matter to a quick and amicable resolution."
Under the consent decree, the school board must end official prayers during class and school events, refrain from disparaging any particular faith, and prohibit staff from teaching creationism and other biblical doctrine as fact. The consent decree also protects students’ rights to express their faith and pray privately and of their own volition. To ensure that the consent decree is carried out properly and that the constitutional violations do not recur, the board will also conduct in-service training for staff on First Amendment issues and the effects of religious discrimination on students.
The ACLU filed the complaint in Lane v. Sabine Parish School Board on behalf of C.C. and his family after C.C.’s science teacher allegedly made disparaging remarks about Buddhism, and included questions on tests such as "ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" C.C. was denied points on exams for not responding with the expected answer: "LORD."
C.C. and his siblings were also repeatedly subjected to official Christian prayers at school events, as well as religious displays that included a portrait of Jesus hanging above the main entryway, and other proselytizing by teachers.
"The school board did the right thing by agreeing to the consent decree. Children should not feel unwelcome in public school because of their religious beliefs," said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.