In Victory for Religious Liberty, Unanimous Appeals Court Finds LA's School Prayer Law Unconstitutional

December 12, 2001

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW ORLEANS--In a victory for religious liberty, a federal appeals court today said that a Louisiana law authorizing ""spoken prayer"" at public school-sponsored events, including in the classroom, was unconstitutional. 

""The court's ruling reaffirms once again that the proper place for the teaching and promotion of religion belongs in the home and in places of worship chosen by parents or guardians of children,"" said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, one of the groups representing families that challenged the law. 

In upholding a lower court ruling, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law at issue was enacted ""to convey a message of state endorsement and promotion of prayer."" 

Today's ruling also held that certain schools sanctioned an atmosphere of hostility and intolerance toward those who expressed disapproval with school endorsed religious practices. 

In one instance, a student who refused to participate in a prayer circle was called a "Satanist" and a "devil worshipper" by fellow classmates. Students in religious minorities were persecuted and made to feel like outsiders in their own school. 

Parents of children in Ouachita Parish schools in Monroe came to the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State in the fall of 1999 to complain about a ""prayer circle"" in a classroom and the broadcasting of Christian prayers over the intercom at two different schools. 

Attorneys for both groups filed lawsuits on behalf of the families in December 1999, and a district court judge struck down the law in June of 2000. The school board agreed to cease the prayers at issue pending the outcome of an appeal by Governor Mike Foster. 

The ACLU of Louisiana encourages school boards across the state to enact policies consistent with the law of the land and to make sure that administrators at every level within the system comply with the policy. To assist administrators in that effort, the ACLU has posted online a Students' Rights Handbook, which includes a section on Freedom of Religion in the schools, online at http://www.laaclu.org/Court/SRH.htm

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