Consent Decree Approved in Appalling Church/State Case


You may remember a few months ago the story of a young student in the Sabine Parish School District in Louisiana who was ridiculed by a teacher for being a Buddhist. The family filed suit with the help of the ACLU and they have now reached a consent decree to settle the case that forbids the school from allowing such obvious violations.

The student, known as C.C., was asked by sixth-grade teacher Rita Roark to answer the following question on a test: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” When C.C. failed to respond “Lord,” Roark responded “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.” She also frequently denigrated his Buddhist faith, as well as the Hindu faith, referring to both as “stupid.”

When his parents complained to Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb, they were told that “this is the Bible belt,” so they should expect to find the Christian God in the classroom. Ebarb advised them that if they wanted an ungodly classroom, they should transfer C.C. to a school where “there are more Asians.”

Judge Elizabeth Foote of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Louisiana sided with C.C. and his parents, citing that Roark’s behavior — and the school’s decision to defend it — clearly violated “the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

With regard to the specific behavior of Roark, Judge Foot wrote that “[t]he District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event.” Furthermore, “School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious belief, or lack thereof.”

The school has also agreed to hold training sessions for the school board and faculty on separation of church and state and what schools can and cannot do. You can read the consent decree here.

Comments

  1. peterh says

    So, then – – it takes the force of law for Christians to be made to behave in a Christian manner? There’s a moral in that.

  2. hoku says

    I hate consent decrees. They basically boil down to the bad guys agreeing to do what they’re already legally obligated to do. Great. Some punishment. Really sending a message.

  3. darkfatherofalllies says

    @1

    Pretty sure the teacher /was/ acting in a Christian manner. The bibble’s pretty clear about what it thinks concerning other religions.

  4. says

    Can’t you folks see? This is obviously another way of distracting us from thinking about Benghazi!

    (Benghazi is still the right wing boogeyman, or are we back to the IRS scandal? It’s so hard to keep up.)

  5. John Pieret says

    hoku @ 2:

    I hate consent decrees. They basically boil down to the bad guys agreeing to do what they’re already legally obligated to do. Great. Some punishment. Really sending a message.

    Well, the consent decree includes $4,000 to the plaintiffs for the extra costs it encountered for getting the child to the different school, requires the school to, in essence, pay for a special bus to transport the child to the new school until he graduates and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney $40,000 in fees. The cash awards may be paid by the school’s insurance carrier (but then the school’s insurance rates will go up).

    Unfortunately, the people who are always punished the most in these cases are the kids in the school, as the district will, one way or another, have less money to spend on their education.

  6. Chiroptera says

    hoku, #2: I hate consent decrees.

    Well, it’s either this or we drag the plaintiffs through the time, expense, and publicity (probably adverse) of a trial. The plaintiffs themselves obviously preferred this route.

  7. jameshanley says

    @Hoku,

    It seems to me that what we want to focus on is changing the behavior, not salivating for vengeance through punishment. If it takes punishment to change the behavior, then that’s all well and good; punish them. But otherwise, the school district has agreed that it will stop violating the Constitution, and that’s what we’re really looking for out of cases like this, I would think.

  8. whheydt says

    With regard to a consent decree….don’t forget that it is actually a court order and violating the order has its own consequences and would be easy to demonstrate.

  9. hoku says

    My problem with consent decrees is stems from the fact that there’s almost never an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, as is the case here. Especially in how they are used in the financial regulatory sector.

    However, having read the order in this case, I’m retracting my dislike. The fact that the district is paying attorneys fees, reimbursing the family for related costs, and having to provide transportation to another school for the student is reasonable. This order honestly reads more like it was determined after a trial, instead of the results of a negotiation.

  10. eric says

    My problem with consent decrees is stems from the fact that there’s almost never an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, as is the case here.

    IANAL but my guess is that this is because avoiding it is worth far more (in dollars or other concrete resources) to the defendent than getting an admission is worth to the plaintiff. For the plaintiff, it’s basically just an apology; they don’t get resources for it. But for the defendent, admitting wrongdoing could open the door to future suits by others. So they fight very hard to prevent it, while the plaintiff has very little monetary motivation to fight for it.

    If we pretended (for the moment) that an admission of wrongdoing would not result in any further costs to the district (or corporation, or other defendent), then I bet they would aggressively fight for giving that rather than paying fines and other concrete penalties. The reason they’d rather pay up-front fines is because those are known and limited; future suits by other people claiming they were wronged could be far more expensive.

  11. Synfandel says

    I’m a fairly well educated man, but I’m not from the ‘Bible belt’ and I certainly would not have have come up with “Lord” to complete that sentence. ‘Cook’ would have been more likely. I have to wonder what exactly was being tested and where it fit into the sixth grade curriculum.

  12. abb3w says

    @2, hoku

    I hate consent decrees. They basically boil down to the bad guys agreeing to do what they’re already legally obligated to do. Great. Some punishment. Really sending a message.

    There are some teeth to those; if the bad guys thereafter fail to toe the line — spelled out in explicit detail — they can be brought back before the (doubtless now cranky) judge on contempt charges, and cannot attempt to assert “but that was constitutional!” as a defense for anything spelled out in the agreement. Such contempt may involve significant judge-imposed fines to be handed over to the plaintiff, of the “if you don’t get the point yet, another zero can go before the decimal point next time” variety, and potentially can be referred to prosecutors for criminal contempt charges. They also usually involve payment of the plaintiff’s legal expenses thus far; and this one also involves agreeing to pay both the nominal and compensatory damages demanded.

    Essentially, this consent ruling has absolutely everything one could reasonably hope to get from a civil suit against a school district, with the main difference that the faster turnaround makes for a smaller pile of cash handed over to the lawyers — and taken away from the rest of the school’s budgets. (I think that in theory, a suit in equity could demand the district fire someone responsible; but in practice, that would probably require proving that the district had willfully neglected such final discipline of a teacher whose systematic pattern of conduct would already have met the due process threshold to do so. And nohow, I’m not a lawyer.)

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