Bossier Parish Schools Settle Religious Lawsuit, Must Make Changes
After almost a year of legal fighting, Bossier Parish Public Schools admitted in Federal Court to violating the United State Constitution, and agreed to settle a lawsuit with the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
This week, US District Court Chief Judge Maurice Hicks, Jr issued a Consent Decree against Bossier Parish Schools. The legal move will set up perimeters to keep the school from violating the rights of students in the future. The court also ruled that because Bossier Parish Schools violated the law, they would have to pay the legal and lawyer fees for Americans United.
The changes that will be brought through the Consent Decree include:
- The creation of a monitoring committee that will observe and look at any future violations. Americans United and the Bossier Parish Superintendent will each select two members of the four-member committee, which answers to the court, not the school board.
- Bossier Parish Schools will have to minimize the need to hold school events in houses of worship.
- Prayer will be allowed among students, but must be initiated by students, cannot be disruptive, and cannot occur during class time.
- School staff can’t lead, or participate in, student-led prayers. The district cannot promote, or sponsor, religious student clubs (Fellowship of Christian Athletes type groups) or activities.
The new Consent Decree will be in place until August of 2031. According to the Cornell Law School, violation of a Consent Decree would lead to:
"Violation of a consent order shall subject the consenting party to any and all sanctions which could have been imposed in the proceeding resulting in the consent order if all of the issues in that proceeding had been decided against the consenting party and to any further sanctions for violation noted as agreed upon in the consent order."
Meaning that any violations to the agreed upon guidelines will result in an immediate court ruling against the school system.
A press release about the ruling included comments about Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser:
"Laser wrote that some Bossier staff members were putting children in the untenable position of choosing between participating in religious activities they don’t subscribe to or singling themselves out for ostracism because they have different beliefs. Laser was particularly taken aback by the report in AU’s lawsuit of one teacher who told students they had to believe in Jesus to be “good people.”
Even though the courts ruled in favor of Americans United, Bossier Parish Schools sent out a statement this week claiming victory in the lawsuit.