Louisiana School Board Repeatedly Defied Federal Court Order, Charges ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
April 5, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU Files Motion for Criminal Contempt to Protect Religious Liberty, Uphold the Law

NEW ORLEANS–The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today filed a motion for criminal contempt against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board for defying an agreed on court order banning official prayer at athletic events. This marks the second contempt motion filed against the school board within the past two weeks for violating court orders.

“The school board and its superintendent cannot get away with a shell game that mocks the judiciary and its role of interpreting and upholding the rule of law,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “It is time to put out the welcome mat to believers and non-believers alike at all public school functions across the state and the nation. Children and parents whose beliefs are different from the majority must not be made to feel like outsiders in their own schools.”

On behalf of offended parents with children in the Tangipahoa Parish school district, the ACLU has filed three lawsuits against the school board on religious liberty issues over a ten-year period. The lawsuits include a challenge to the promotion of the biblical faith-based story of creation as opposed to the scientific theory of evolution; the presence of a “pizza preacher” proselytizing via a free lunch; and the latest case on school-sponsored prayer. The school board’s consistent defiance of the law not only dishonors and endangers the Constitution, said the ACLU, but it also sends a message of religious intolerance and polarizes the community.

The latest violation came on March 24 when an adult identified as Shane Tycer used the PA system to deliver a prayer before the start of a baseball game between Loranger High School and Sumner High School. The action was in direct violation of a court judgment, which the school board voluntarily signed on August 27, 2004, that strictly prohibited such activity from that point forward. The court order came after a parent of two children in the school district sued the school board in 2003 for engaging in illegal conduct to advance religion by conducting invocations prior to athletic and other sponsored events.

The school board acknowledged that a prayer was said before the March 24 game, but claimed that they should not be held responsible for violating the court order because Tycer is not a school employee and only filled in because the regular PA system announcer arrived late. However, the ACLU charged that school officials made no attempt to stop Tycer, and have failed to publicly repudiate the illegal actions that occurred in a venue that is under their supervision. The ACLU has called the school board’s behavior in this incident part of a pattern and practice of disobeying the law in order to promote Christianity over other religions in public schools.

“Public schools should be kept inclusive and secular in keeping with our Founders’ ideas for religious liberty for all,” said Cook. “Because public schools are part of the government, official school-organized or school-sponsored devotional exercises are inconsistent with the principle of religious freedom. How, when, where and to whom children should pray is a decision that should be made by families in the home and chosen places of worship, not forced or coerced by government officials.”

A copy of the motion for contempt is at http://www.laaclu.org/DoeCrimContempt040505.pdf.

The August consent judgment is at http://www.laaclu.org/DoevTangiConsent.pdf.

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