Louisiana Family Seeks ACLU Help in Ending Sponsored Prayers in Public Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
May 17, 2002 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Louisiana
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


BATON ROUGE, LA–Acting on behalf of a family that declined to be identified for fear of retaliation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to end public school endorsement of prayer during graduation and award ceremonies.

“”School personnel who use their official position to promote the majority Christian religion make children and their parents who believe otherwise feel unwelcome in their own community,”” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

“In other parts of the world,”” Cook noted, “”religion is used by local majorities to justify the mistreatment of religious minorities, including Christian missionaries. Such religious intolerance continues to destroy communities all over the world. We risk letting that happen here in Louisiana at our peril.””

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a man identified only as “”John Doe,”” on behalf of himself and his son, “”Tom Doe.”” The Doe family said they are filing the lawsuit to prevent further violations of their religious freedom. They have asked not to be identified publicly because they fear that their neighbors or others might retaliate against them for opposing the school’s prayer activities. The lawsuit asks the federal court to declare school-sponsored prayer in the public schools of West Feliciana Parish unconstitutional and to issue a permanent injunction to stop such activities in the future.

According to the legal complaint, on May 18, 2001, John Doe’s adult child attended graduation ceremonies at West Feliciana High School where the principal’s address to the graduates quoted Christian Bible verses and the graduation closed with a religious benediction. Prior to the graduation, John Doe had sent a letter to school officials requesting a graduation ceremony free from religious references. The Doe family fears that their second child, “”Tom Doe,”” will be subjected to similar actions when he graduates.

In addition, the ACLU complaint describes religious references at an award ceremony held at Bains Elementary School on May 25, 2001, just seven days after the high school incident. Prior to this occasion, John Doe had sent a letter to the school board requesting that the ceremony be conducted in a secular manner free of religious references.

Despite Doe’s request, Reverend Milton Coates delivered a Christian prayer before the awards presentation and Superintendent Lloyd Lindsey introduced himself to the crowd as a member of Grace Episcopal Church. Before presenting each award, he said, “God bless you in your academic pursuits.”

“Public schools are not Sunday school, and the place for the teaching of religion belongs in the home and in places of worship chosen by the parents of children,”” Cook said. “”Schools can and should teach tolerance and good citizenship, but must not favor one religion over another or belief over non-belief,”” he added, noting that the United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world, home to 1,500 different religious groups, along with atheists, agnostics, and other belief systems.

The defendants in the case are the West Feliciana Parish School Board by and through Superintendent Lloyd Lindsey, Bains Elementary School Principal and Mike Thornhill, Principal of West Feliciana High School.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release