ACLU Claims Use of ‘God Bless You’, Prayer Request Boxes at Louisiana High School Are Illegal

Bus pd-compressedBENTON, La. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is demanding that a Louisiana school stop allowing students to place prayer request boxes on campus and that its principal stop mentioning God on the school website.

The organization sent a letter last week to the superintendent of the Bossier Parish School System to complain about the activities at Airline High School. It asserted that the prayer boxes, which were placed by the student-led Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Principal Jason Rowland’s use of the phrase “God bless you all” on the school website, are illegal.

“This letter is to inform you that these practices violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and comparable provisions of the Louisiana Constitution, and they must stop immediately,” the correspondence read.

“The United States Constitution requires public schools to ensure that state-supported activity is not used for religious indoctrination,” it continued. “When school staff crosses the constitutional line, … the courts have declared these activities unlawful. There is no question that the principal has violated these legal mandates by invoking God, prayer, and Christianity in school publications and on school grounds.”

The ACLU then demanded the removal of the prayer boxes and asked that Rowland be instructed not to reference religion in any school communications.

But Freedom Guard, a legal organization led by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, soon also sent a letter to the parish superintendent asserting that the ACLU is wrong. It offered to provide free legal representation in the matter.

“As usual, the ACLU is wrong on both the facts and the law,” Johnson wrote in the letter.

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He said that students have a right to place the prayer boxes for use by their peers, and that Rowland’s use of “God bless you all” is “an innocuous reference to our religious heritage.”

Superintendent D.C. Machen says that the school board’s attorney is reviewing the letters from the ACLU and Freedom Guard. The matter will be discussed further in a board meeting on Thursday.

“As a public body, the Bossier Parish School Board is limited to taking official action at duly-convened meetings of the board. As the subject letter was just received, it has been placed on the agenda of the board’s October 1, 2015 school board meeting,” a statement from spokesperson Sonja Bailes reads.

“In the meantime, please understand that the Bossier Parish School System enjoys an established record of achievement,” it continues. “Such success is due in large part to the fact that, as in this case, the system respects both the law and the religious beliefs of all its students and employees.”


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  • bowie1

    Anti-Theists seem to have disdain for even the smallest reference to a belief in God.

  • Josey

    How is this illegal? First amendment protects this right and is not against it. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    Sounds like the ACLU wants to prohibit the free exercise of these kids right to have prayer boxes. And the principal’s right to say, God bless you.

    • Lexical Cannibal

      Here’s my best attempt at a strictly legal explanation of it.

      Public schools (public institutions in general) cannot give endorsement to any religion or religious practice. In cases where it does, then the institution has to make clear effort to provide equal levels of endorsement to all other faiths, or else it becomes a “special endorsement” and therefore, illegal. The question then becomes, “What qualifies as an endorsement?” While it’s largely contextual, the general gist of it is a special recognition, promotion, or allowance. This becomes problematic when it’s an endorsement explicitly or implicitly above other faiths or which other faiths do not have access to. If a principal wants to give a Jainist prayer over the loudspeaker for instance, he either has to allow all faith groups (and I do mean all) the same opportunity, or he has to abstain and avoid the promotion altogether.

      This is a pretty well-tested precedent in American law and we have it because we realized that even if “congress” doesn’t make special laws about religion, that’s not to stop any of its other parts from discriminating religiously (i.e. local police making it a policy to always stop catholic priests to check under their cassocks for weaponry). Allowing a kind of oversight like that could very easily lead to a “de facto” state religion, where it may be technically legal to have another faith, but parts of the government make it almost impossibly hard. This in mind, the legal interpretation was expanded to cover all parts of the government on every level, resulting in schools, libraries, courthouses, police departments, and so on which were required by law to be religiously neutral so long as they were owned and/or supported by the government. Obviously, execution of that idea hasn’t been perfect and you may not like how that sounds, but again, that’s the gist of it. I’m making a point to leave my opinion out of it.

      So then we get to the school, and you may be glad to hear that the case isn’t completely clear cut, but it’s not looking good for the school either. On the one hand, you’ve got the principal giving his blessings. This is the more clear aspect, as it is literally the head of the school giving a pretty clearly Christian–or at least abrahamic–salutation, in exclusion to other faiths. For Rowland to do that as a person is fine, obviously, but to do it while acting as a state employee in some great authority is decidedly not, legally speaking. Being in a position of power means that an implied religious preference like that is likely to make others who don’t share that preference uncomfortable seeking any kind of administrative assistance from him, let alone fair treatment of their children. Again, if this were just him acting as a person, then those other people could suck it up, but he’s not; he’s the principal and if my little hindu kid is in trouble with him, I might wonder if my kid’s being treated fairly. If I have reason to believe he’s not, based on his family’s religion, then the school could very likely be liable.

      Then there’s the less-clear case, the boxes. This article makes it clear that the group was “student lead” which puts kind of a spin on it. While faculty and staff are held to a standard of religious neutrality within the scope of their positions, students (members of the public) are not, and are allowed to practice their faith however they like, as long as it does not disrupt normal school functions. This in mind,a few questions have to be asked; 1) How much staff/faculty involvement is there in this group? If it’s student-lead but faculty-directed, or just student-lead on paper alone, then that’s a problem. 2) Do these boxes disrupt normal school functioning? Are they distracting in some way or do they contribute to an environment which isn’t neutral and accepting of all faiths? 3) Do other student-lead groups (including non-religious groups) have the ability to install similar displays? Is this a special arrangement made for this student group?

      So in short, is this illegal? Arguably. I certainly wouldn’t bet the farm on a judge ok’ing the things this school has done, but there’s questions that we don’t seem to have the answers to which will decide the finer points of it.

      • The Skeptical Chymist

        Very well stated, Lex. But your words are like pearls to swine. Only those who already understand your point will accept this. The rest on this forum want to continue to use the government as a means of promoting their religion, as if they and their beliefs are all that matter. They want to continue to assert their majority-religion status by marking their territory, by putting up displays by the government that show which religion is the authorized by the government. Dogs mark their territory too, by putting their personal stench on every tree and fire hydrant.

        • Lexical Cannibal

          *shrug* My only goal here was to answer the question of how something like this could be considered illegal according to the U.S. Constitution. If any person who reads that decides they think that reality is immoral or based off a misinterpretation, then that’s their business. Bonus if it actually manages to help someone understand why other people might have a genuine, non-antagonistic problem with the school’s behavior.

    • Matthew T. Mason

      If you want to know why the ACLU is having a problem with “God bless you,” the answer is really a whole lot less complicated than what Lexical Cannibal is giving.

      To put it quite simply, the ACLU is anti-Christian. Period.

      • Josey

        yes, I get that they are…they are afraid of prayers to the King of Glory and they want to force others to be as they are, they will soon find out that they cannot hide from Him or make Him go away. They are ridiculous and not so bright to think they can fight with or make the Creator of all Heaven and Earth to go away with their silly lawsuits.

  • Becky

    “It asserted that the prayer boxes, which were placed by the student-led Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Principal Jason Rowland’s use of the phrase “God bless you all” on the school website, are illegal.

    “This letter is to inform you that these practices violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and comparable provisions of the Louisiana Constitution, and they must stop immediately,” the correspondence read.

    “The United States Constitution requires public schools to ensure that state-supported activity is not used for religious indoctrination,” it continued. “When school staff crosses the constitutional line, … the courts have declared these activities unlawful. There is no question that the principal has violated these legal mandates by invoking God, prayer, and Christianity in school publications and on school grounds.”

    The USC is being misused and abused. Using the ACLU’s argument, if the school removes those prayer boxes, they will still be violating the first amendment’s establishment clause. The government cannot choose no religion over religion, either.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      Well, what would being neutral look like to you, then?

    • dixiesuzan

      CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
      As of January 1, 2015

      PREAMBLE
      We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, economic, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect individual rights to life, liberty, and property; afford opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; assure equality of rights; promote the health, safety, education, and welfare of the people;
      maintain a representative and orderly government; ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and justice to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.
      *** Perhaps the boxes should read –
      We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God, ask that He bless us all.

  • dixiesuzan

    CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
    As of January 1, 2015
    PREAMBLE
    We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, economic, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect individual rights to life, liberty, and property; afford opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; assure equality of rights; promote the health, safety, education, and welfare of the people;
    maintain a representative and orderly government; ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and justice to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.
    *** Perhaps the boxes should read –
    We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God, ask that He bless us all.