BENTON, 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.
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.”