SHREVEPORT, La. — Hundreds attended a prayer rally on Friday in support of a Louisiana elementary and middle school principal who is under fire from the ACLU for quoting a Scripture in a recent newsletter sent to parents and posted on the district website.
Albert Hardison is the principal of Walnut Hill Elementary-Middle School, and has been at the school for many years. Recently, Hardison sent out a newsletter that cited and quoted from Philippians 4:13, asking that prayers be sent up for students to excel on their exams.
“As our students prepare to take the state mandated tests, LEAP, iLEAP and PARCC, please pray that our God will give them the strength and mental fortitude, the patience, the wisdom, and the energy to do their best,” it read. “Please help our children understand the meaning of Philippians 4:13 … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
But an unidentified resident who does not have a child that attends Walnut Hill complained to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about the matter. The organization in turn wrote an open letter on Tuesday to Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree, asserting that Hardison’s actions were unconstitutional.
“[Hardison] has engaged in a pattern of religious proselytization by sending messages to parents invoking prayer, and through a lengthy ‘Principal’s Message’ on the school’s website,” ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman wrote. “This unlawful religious coercion is improper from any school employee but it is particularly egregious coming from the school principal, whose job is to teach and uphold, rather than violate, the legal rights of all.”
Caddo Parish Public Schools soon announced that it was conducting an investigation and had removed Hardison’s comments while officials look into the complaint.
“In this instance, questionable materials subsequently have been removed from district webpages while the investigation continues,” a statement from the district explained. “If there is a violation, we will make certain we act swiftly to ensure we do not have any further violations.”
But parents and teachers soon rose up after hearing about the ACLU’s stance against Hardison. The Facebook page “Support Albert Hardison” was launched on Tuesday and quickly generated thousands of likes. As of press time, five days after its launch, the page has over 7,600 likes.
“Mr. Hardison at Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle School is being attacked by someone who has no affiliation with the school!” the page reads. “We as parents must come together.”
Parent Penny Cardino said that it is the students who approach Hardison and request prayer.
“They go up to Mr. Hardison, ‘I’m having a bad day. Would you pray with me, please?'” she explained.
A rally was also organized for Friday at the Grawood Baptist Church in Keithville, an event which drew hundreds in support of the principal. Some held signs such as “#ourchildrenpray” and “Support Mr. Hardison.”
Jimmy Clark of Sycamore Life Ministries addressed the large crowd.
“Mr. Hardison loved everybody. There’s not a child that he didn’t touch. There’s not a child that he didn’t say ‘I love you.’ There’s not a parent that he didn’t say ‘I love you,'” he said.
Clark warned parents that there is a concerted effort to secularize schools.
“No matter what happens; no matter if anything happens ,” he said, “[T]he Word of God says every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess. There will come a day when those folks will stand in front of Jesus Christ and they will have to answer for everything they say.”
Hardison did not attend the event as he wanted the gathering to focus on Christ and not himself, but his son Kelvin and daughter-in-law Tera were among those who spoke.
“It took me by shock that someone would be so upset by someone praying for their children,” Tera Hardison said, according to the Shreveport Times.
“I am beyond touched,” Kelvin Hardison commented on the outpouring of support for his father. “Hopefully we accomplish something out here today and let everyone know that Jesus is alive and He is real. Thank you for supporting my father and my family.”
According to local television station KPTV, local businesses are also expressing their support for Hardison. Time-It Lube, with two locations in the Shreveport area, posted on both of its signs “Thanks Albert Hardison. May God bless you.” Summer Grove AutoCare also posted “God bless Mr. Hardison!” on its business sign.
Main Photo: Support Albert Hardison Facebook page