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Jan 27 2014

Louisiana School Sued for Blatant Church/State Violations

The ACLU of Louisiana has filed a federal lawsuit against the Sabine Parish School Board for a variety of alleged violations, including teachers proselytizing and berating a 6th grade student for not being Christian. If what is alleged in the complaint is true, the school is toast.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit today against the Sabine Parish School Board, alleging that officials at one school harassed and proselytized a sixth-grader because of his Buddhist faith. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two parents, Scott and Sharon Lane, and three of their children, including their son, “C.C.,” who is a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent.

“Public schools should be welcoming places for students of all backgrounds,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “No child should be harassed and made to feel like an outsider in his own classroom, and students should not have to endure school officials constantly imposing their religious beliefs on them while they are trying to learn.”

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, C.C enrolled in Negreet High School, which serves students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, earlier this year and quickly became the target of harassment by school staff. His science teacher, Rita Roark, has repeatedly taught students that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is “impossible,” and that the Bible is “100 percent true.”

Roark also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” When C.C. did not write in Roark’s expected answer, “LORD,” she belittled him in front of the rest of the class. While studying other religions, Roark has also told students that Buddhism is “stupid.”

Beyond Roark’s classroom, the school also regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events. School officials display religious iconography throughout hallways and classrooms, including a large portrait of Jesus Christ, and an electronic marquee in front of the school scrolls Bible verses as students enter the building.

When the Lanes objected to these practices, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb told them that, “this is the Bible belt.” She suggested that C.C. should “change” his faith and advised the Lanes that their only recourse was to transfer him to another district school 25 miles away where, in her words, “there are more Asians.” Ultimately, C.C.’s parents did transfer him to another school to protect him, but school officials there also unconstitutionally promote religion.

“The treatment this child and his family have endured is not only disgraceful, it’s unconstitutional,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

You can read the full complaint here.

39 comments

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  1. 1
    doublereed

    I wonder what it’s like to be the ACLU of Louisiana…

  2. 2
    hunter

    Smug, self-centered, arrogant — and people wonder why Christianity it getting a bad name.

    How long do you think it will be before Matt Barber or someone of that ilk starts screaming about persecution of Christians?

  3. 3
    D. C. Sessions

    The Lane’s are toast.

    Moving to another school in Louisiana is obviously not going to cut it. Offhand I’d say their best bet would be Illinois or maybe Delaware.

  4. 4
    timgueguen

    I don’t think they ever stop. I can imagine Barber and his ilk talking in their sleep continuously about supposed Christian persecution.

  5. 5
    chilidog99

    That teacher should be fired just for using all caps and twenty five exclamation points.

    Didn’t Terry Pratchet say that the number of exclamation points used is inversely proportional to the intelligence of the user?

  6. 6
    sh3baproject

    for the question,he should have wrote “big bang” just to annoy the hell out of the teacher.

  7. 7
    John Pieret

    The school board issued a statement:

    The Sabine Parish School Board has only recently been made aware of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. A lawsuit only represents one side’s allegations, and the board is disappointed that the ACLU chose to file suit without even contacting it regarding the facts.

    The school system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously.

    That “defend the lawsuit vigorously” will probably only last until its insurance carrier explains that the marquee, portrait of Jesus, etc., which have been well documented in the media, are enough to win the lawsuit and, unless the board settles, the insurer will disclaim coverage.

    Of course, it could fall for Liberty Counsel’s probable offer “free” representation, in which case, it will be the students who are the losers.

  8. 8
    MikeMa

    @John P,
    ou are no doubt correct, but with this level of instruction, the students are clearly losing quite a lot already.

  9. 9
    dugglebogey

    Confront them on their illegal behavior and watch them start bearing false witness.

  10. 10
    Modusoperandi

    On the plus side, Louisiana has schools now.

  11. 11
    AsqJames

    I hope they win the case, but this bit annoyed me a little:

    their son, “C.C.,” who is a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent.

    Come on! He didn’t believe in reincarnation or nirvana or whatever Buddhists believe in the day he was born.

    It sounds like he’s adopted and his birth parents were Buddhist. Presumably his adoptive parents decided to raise him in that faith tradition to the best of their abilities. I have no more problem with that than any other parent raising their children in their own faith tradition – indeed it would seem to be a superior environment for a child to realise that his religion is ultimately his own choice. But I’m surprised to see the ACLU declaring a child to have had faith in any particular religious belief from birth!

    Why not just say “their son, “C.C.,” who has [always] been raised Buddhist due to his Thai descent”? It’s not that many more words and has the advantage of at least being accurate.

  12. 12
    Modusoperandi

    AsqJames “Come on! He didn’t believe in reincarnation or nirvana or whatever Buddhists believe in the day he was born.”
    What? Who better to believe in reincarnation than someone who was just reincarnated?

  13. 13
    chilidog99

    John Pieret, you almost have to wonder why the insurance companies are not educating their clients better on what is covered and what is not.

  14. 14
    troll

    Wouldn’t he be a liveslong Buddhist?

  15. 15
    AsqJames

    Modusoperandi “What? Who better to believe in reincarnation than someone who was just reincarnated?”

    Good point. I withdraw my objection.

    Technical question on reincarnation: Are you reincarnated at the point of birth or of conception? And does this have an effect on Buddhist attitudes to abortion?

  16. 16
    Alverant

    @JohnP
    I noticed the school board never denied the accusations. They also said “students” and not “teachers” since it’s the teachers who were the problem. I also noticed how they tried to make themselves out to be the victim from the ACLU “surprising” them with the lawsuit even though they should have known about the complaints.

  17. 17
    chilidog99

    Looking at the copies of the tests on the LAACLU.ORG website, make me angry. Not only is this teacher a failure as a human being, but she is a failure as a teacher as well. Disregarding the fact that she has a couple misspelled words (wrong words, actually). She is obviously unable to teach the concepts she is supposed to be teaching.

    The kid, CC, is obviously struggling with science. I wonder if there is any way that some if the people on freethoughtblogs could be able to secure the services of a competent tutor to help him. It’s bad enough that he had to deal with Roark as a teacher, he should have been better served.

  18. 18
    Crimson Clupeidae

    That is a little unusual. The typical timeline is that the ACLU contacts the school, then the school board, then files the lawsuit after they prove intransigent. I wonder if the local ACLU office knew it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, or really are hoping the teacher loses their job, or there is some other aggravating factor(s) in this case?

  19. 19
    Crimson Clupeidae

    From the introduction in the complaint:

    Paintings of Jesus Christ, Bible verses, and Christian devotional phrases adorn the walls of many classrooms and hallways,
    including the main hallway leading out to the bus pick-up area. A lighted, electronic marquee placed just outside the building scrolls Bible verses every day. And staff members routinely lead students in Christian prayer. The school district’s administration – all the way up to the
    Superintendent of Schools – not only knows about these activities, but endorses and encourages all of this.

    I’m guessing this is part of the reason this went straight to a lawsuit.

    This is even more pervasive than the initial story leads us to believe, and I hope it wind up changing things in the entire district. Unfortunately, it sounds like the board/superintendent is planning on wasting a lot of the school’s money on this.

  20. 20
    raven

    I wonder what this school’s achievement test and other standardized test scores are.

    In some places, schools are evaluated by performance based measurements.

    Theoretically, Louisiana is one of them. OTOH, there are often ways for schools to opt out i.e. charter schools or maybe just ignore them.

  21. 21
    Michael Heath

    Wylann,

    The superintendent advised the student to either convert to Christianity or move out of the parish. That alone justifies the ACLU playing hardball from the get-go.

  22. 22
    raven

    Nola.com 2013:

    while landing in 48th place for K-12 achievement.

    The magazine’s “chance for success” index also put Louisiana near the bottom,

    Louisiana is near the bottom in student achievement scores. No surprise. Louisiana is near the bottom in most metrics for social well being.

  23. 23
    John Pieret

    chilidog99 @ 13:

    I can’t speak for every insurance company but I’ve seen prepared materials for government bodies on how to avoid violations of the Constitution in various circumstances. But that won’t help if the school board members don’t bother to read them.

    Alverant @ 16 & Wylann @ 18 & 19:

    They may have gone straight to a lawsuit because the family did transfer the kid to a school 25 miles away (which isn’t much better in that it too has religious messages plastered all over the walls), which involes a lot of inconvenience (the school wouldn’t provide transportation) and the kid has been traumatized (not wanting to go to school because he was sick to his stomach and actually vomiting on the way to school). If it had just been the religious paraphernalia, the ACLU might have given the school a chance to correct it before suing but this was more of a case of religious bullying of a child by an adult school employee.

  24. 24
    steffp

    @AsqJames, #15
    “Are you reincarnated at the point of birth or of conception?
    Positively conception.
    “And does this have an effect on Buddhist attitudes to abortion?”
    Buddhists are expected to take full personal responsibility for everything they do and for the consequences that follow. That is different from the Xian view of sin and punishment, it allows for balancing results and intentions.
    Dalai Lama, New York Times, 28/11/1993:
    “Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception.
    “I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.”

  25. 25
    Alverant

    Do we know for sure the ACLU didn’t contact the school first? So far we just have the school’s claim they weren’t contacted. For all we know they were contacted but “forgot”.

    If they didn’t, I’m inclined to agree that the shouldn’t have because the school’s behavior was just that bad.

  26. 26
    chilidog99

    One other issue. Louisiana is the home of the notorious “Science Education Act of 2008″. Which allows science teachers to bring in supplementary teaching materials (ie bibles) into the classrooms. I so hope that the school board doubles down on this case and used that law as a defense. It would be sweet if the law were struck down over this.

  27. 27
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @AsqJames #11

    Why do you assume he was adopted? The only possible reason I can see is they’re names, but a lot of subsequent-generation immigrants go by anglicised names.

  28. 28
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    *”they” being the parents, Scott and Sharon Lane.

  29. 29
    terlenka

    I live in Louisiana and while I don’t have kids yet I’ve been told that numerous local schools (in a different part of the state from this story) violate the constitution and dare the ACLU to sue them. This alone, never mind the egregious and easily documented abuses at all levels in the school system, is probably why the ACLU filed the lawsuit without contacting the school (if that’s even the case).

  30. 30
    Gretchen

    The Lane’s are toast.

    Indeed, that’s what I’m afraid of– that in speaking up in an environment like this, they’ll be harassed or worse.

  31. 31
    typecaster

    Thumper – I think you meant “their”. “They’re” is a contraction of “they are”, and putting that into the sentence in place of “they’re” results in something not immediately understandable.

  32. 32
    AsqJames

    @Thumper,

    “Why do you assume he was adopted?”

    First of all, whether or not he’s adopted was tangential to my point (which itself was tangential to the issue of proselytising by public school teachers/administrators). The main point was no child is a Buddhist (or Christian or Muslim or Jew or Hindu) from their day of birth.

    That aside, my main reason for saying “It sounds like he’s adopted” was that of three siblings attending the same school, he appears to be the only one singled out for being Buddhist, leading me to think the other children in the family may not be. Now I don’t know what the statistics are, but I rather doubt there are many families who raise their children in different faiths except where one or more of the children is from a previous relationship or where one or more of the children is adopted.

    The fact that CC’s ethnic heritage is mentioned in connection with him being Buddhist, and the fact it is specifically his ethnic heritage rather than the family’s, made me lean toward the latter of the two most likely explanations.

    But it really couldn’t be more inconsequential.

  33. 33
    samgardner

    Their belief statement is still up on their website at www2.sabine.k12.la.us/district/believe04.htm, so at least that part of it is true. Looking at the collection of documentation they’ve acquired for the suit, they’ve got a pretty damning case against the district. All that’s needed is confirmation of some of the oral statements that were made.

    Which, if they can be proven, I think would also give some grounds to add in a racial discrimination component to the suit if the attorneys wished. The superintendent suggesting a school where “there are more Asians”? She should lose her job for the sheer stupidity of making that statement.

  34. 34
    John Pieret

    AsqJames:

    For what it’s worth, the boy is the father’s stepson:

    https://www.aclu.org/blog/religion-belief/if-you-want-fit-public-school-just-become-christian

    I saw somewhere else that the mother is Buddhist too.

  35. 35
    AsqJames

    John Pieret,

    Fair enough, my mistakes – both to make the assumption, and to refer to it when it wasn’t necessary to make the point.

    Probably harmless mistakes, but I get that my assumption may have been construed as mildly racist or perhaps touched a nerve for people with experience of adoption (from any angle).

  36. 36
    magistramarla

    The thing that really angers me is the fact that often military families have to deal with this kind of crap.
    I don’t know if this is a military family, or even if this school is near a military installation, but this is what it brought to my mind. In many cases, a military spouse is from an Asian country, and the children are being raised to understand both of their parents’ cultures. Often, those families don’t have much choice as to where they will be stationed and have to deal with schools like this one.
    We are a highly mobile society. I’m not impressed with states’ rights or local school board control of curricula. I think that we need some federal regulations and some nation-wide requirements for the sake of children who are moved from state to state. There seems to be a lot of complaining about the proposed core curriculum, and I honestly don’t know enough about it to judge, but I hope that it is a starting point.

  37. 37
    D. C. Sessions

    The main point was no child is a Buddhist (or Christian or Muslim or Jew or Hindu) from their day of birth.

    Ummm … a child can be a Jew at birth, in exactly the same way s/he can be an American.

    Has zip to do with belief or lack thereof.

  38. 38
    Erp

    If you read the complaint the family consists of

    1. The mother with her adopted child, C.C., both are Buddhist.
    2. The father with his two children by a another relationship one of whom attends church and believes the school has overstepped the bounds and one who is a non-believer.
    The parents married though have not cross adopted each others children. Note all three children are complainants though C.C. has borne the brunt with each parent acting on behalf of their children and on her own also in the case of the mother (the superintendent’s comments to her).

    C.C. was transferred to another school within the district (the parish is a good size and sparsely populated). Religiously (from a bit of googling) it is mostly Baptist followed by Methodist with Catholics and Mormons as minorities (there is a Mormon church within the district). It is also predominantly White with a fairly substantial Black and Native American population. I suspect a lot of the teachers are local. There also seems to be no separate Catholic school system (nor any other private schools that aren’t ‘Christian’) so I suspect a fair number of Catholics are bullied also (unless they are all in one area of the district and so are a local majority in the schools in that area). I can’t imagine the Mormons not having trouble either again unless they are all concentrated in one school.

    BTW among other items in the complaint “Once a year, Negreet administrators and faculty organize a “See You at the Pole” event, at which students and faculty gather at the school’s flagpole before class to pray. Attendance is compulsory for all students.” The other events they might try to justify as the prayer being a minor part but See You at the Pole is just for prayer and to mark one as a Christian (of a certain type).

  39. 39
    JamesY2

    I wonder if these teachers graduated from high schools with civics/government requirements.

    If they did, I wonder how.

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