BENTON, La. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is threatening a local school district over alleged “proselytization” at Bossier Parish School System’s Airline High School.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman recently penned an open letter to Bossier superintendent D.C. Machen over an alleged “pattern of religious proselytization by establishing ‘prayer boxes’ with Christian symbols throughout the school and by religious messages in newsletters posted to the school’s website,” The Shreveport Times reports.
Specifically, Esman cites a message posted to the Airline High School website by principal Jason Rowland that includes the phrase “May God Bless You All,” as well as “similar messages” from Rowland.
“We also understand that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has set up ‘prayer boxes’ with Christian symbols around Airline, with the knowledge and consent of school administrators,” Esman wrote in her letter, cited by the Times.
The ACLU of Louisiana also listed numerous demands in the letter, including the removal of all reference to prayer, the removal of all student “prayer boxes,” to educate all “staff regarding Constitutional protections of students and staff,” and a reminder for Rowland that he cannot make religious references in school communications.
“These policies and procedures must be communicated to all students and their parents or guardians,” Esman demanded. “Please confirm to this office that the School Board will take the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the law.”
Fox News reports the school district put Esman’s concerns on its Oct. 1 school board meeting agenda, but is otherwise remaining mute on the issue until board members determine a course of action.
“In the meantime, please understand that the Bossier Parish School System enjoys an established record of achievement,” district spokeswoman Sonja Bailes said.
“Such success is due in large part to the fact that, as in this case, the system respects both the law and religious beliefs of all its students and employees.”
Others have been a little less diplomatic.
State Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from Bossier City, told the Times his law firm is willing to defend the district against the ACLU claims for free, because Johnson thinks they’re bogus.
“This is typical of the ACLU,” he said. “They’re on a seek-and-destroy mission for all things religious.”
Johnson pointed out that the student prayer boxes cited in the ACLU complaint do not even yet exist, and are currently just a proposal from a student group. He believes, however, that the student-led initiative is well within their rights, because other student groups have access to displays at the school.
“I hope the school will stand its ground,” Johnson said.
Many locals who commented online seemed to agree with Johnson.
“Good for the principal of Airline!” E Eleen Sherfey-Vercher posted to Facebook. “Keep God in our schools and country!”
“This is ridiculous! God Bless this man of God and Airline High School,” Christy Taylor Griffin wrote. “Protect him from those who fight daily to take away our rights as Americans. America was built on religious beliefs and like it or not … God will rise among all of us!”
“This is sad! We all need to pray! This entire nation is turning away from God and going to hell,” Tina Davidson added. “So much crime, hate, racism. What is prayer hurting?”
Several others, both Christians and non-Christians, seem to side with the ACLU.
“I’m a Christian woman and Airline alum (’80). I love God, my family, my high school, my friends. In this instance I have to think that religion must stay out of public schools. I say this because the moment we allow prayer boxes, etc. in public schools is when other religions will want to also be able to spread their word. I, for one, would not want Islamic religion shoved down my kid’s mouth,” Sheri Hester Shaw posted.
“SO tired of someone trying to shove their views down our throats!!! How about we are Americans and FREE to express our rights as Americans! I stand behind the ACLU! The people that form these so called “religious” groups are nothing but BULLIES! Stop bullying my children with your Christian rhetoric!” Myrrha Tyler wrote.