SHREVEPORT, La. — A mom sued her daughter's school district Monday, alleging pervasive promotion of Christianity.
The lawsuit details more than 30 specific incidents of allegedly unconstitutional use of religion in schools, including science teachers calling evolution a "fairy tale," teachers waving a Bible at students while criticizing a card game, and teachers punishing or criticizing students who refused to participate in classroom prayers.
Christy Cole of Sibley, La., filed her federal lawsuit on behalf of her daughter, Kaylee, a junior at Lakeside Junior/Senior High School in Sibley, according to the filing.
"Ms. Cole was raised as a Baptist and deeply values her religious beliefs," the lawsuit said. "She objects to and is offended by Defendants' conduct because it promotes beliefs to which she and her daughter do not subscribe, co-opts her faith for official government purposes, promotes religious favorites, and usurps her role."
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Lawyer Bruce Hamilton with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed the suit in U.S. District Court here. Named as defendants are the Webster Parish School District board, Superintendent Johnny Rowland and Lakeside Principal Denny Finley.
Roland declined to comment for the district, saying he had not seen the lawsuit. The school board president, Johnnye Kennon, could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit identifies Cole's daughter only as K.C. In a brief telephone interview, Cole said her daughter's name is Kaylee. She declined to comment further.
"As a parent, I was alarmed and offended that the school district would pressure my daughter into reciting prayers and participating in religious rituals that she doesn’t believe in," Cole said in a statement provided by the ACLU.
"I believe that praying in public is a sin and that our religious faith is between us and God," Cole said. "The government simply has no business strong-arming my daughter into practicing a certain faith.”
"The Webster Parish School District has a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian religious beliefs by sponsoring religious activities and conveying religious messages to students, including by broadcasting prayers daily over school speakers," according to the lawsuit.
Promoting religion has become so ingrained in district schools that "virtually all school events," including sports games, pep rallies, assemblies and graduations, have school-sponsored Christian prayers, religious messages or proselytizing, the lawsuit alleges.
Kaylee Cole was raised Baptist and Methodist but now considers herself agnostic, according to the lawsuit.
"K.C. has been mocked by teachers for questioning religious doctrine they espoused," the lawsuit alleges. "And she feels ostracized among her peers for her recent acts of dissent and because she does not share the religious beliefs promoted by her teachers and her school. ... Her experience of her schools' religious practices has made her depressed, exhausted, upset, and distraught."
Earlier this year, the public school district in Mercer County, W.Va., decided to suspend weekly Bible classes for elementary and middle school students while officials review the lessons' content after two parents and the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in January to discontinue the classes. The case was dismissed in November, but one of the parents appealed that decision Thursday to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail reported.
In 1995, 35 organizations — including the ACLU, the National Council of Churches and at least eight denominations — signed a joint statement about current law on religion in public schools. Among its observations:
• Prayer. Students have a right to pray but don't have the right to have a captive audience listen.
• Bible classes. Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion.
• Evolution. Teachers can talk about various explanations of life on earth, including religious ones, in comparative religion or social studies classes but may present only scientific explanations in science classes.
In Sibley, a Christian rapper performed for three of the past four years at an assembly in which attendance was mandatory. Mynista encouraged students to turn to God as their inspiration, according to Cole's lawsuit.
Students harassed Kaylee for sitting during a morning prayer, including one saying, "Devil, be rid of me!" and her teacher did nothing to stop the bullying behavior, the lawsuit alleges.
Science teachers told students that evolution is not real. according to the lawsuit. Kaylee's older sister, Ana Lopez-Cole, was in that class.
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Webster Parish schools subjected students to heavy-handed religious indoctrination in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Hamilton, the ACLU lawyer who filed the suit for Cole, said in a statement.
"The teachers told students that they believe in Adam and Eve, not the Big Bang," the lawsuit alleges. "One science teacher told Ana's class that evolution is a 'fairytale.' "
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