The Webster Parish School District has settled a lawsuit with the ACLU that alleged that they created a coercive environment that subjected students to school sponsored Christian religious activities.

ACLU Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton says they received complaints from a Webster Parish student’s family that the activities had been ongoing for some time.

“The school districts created an environment so suffused with religious messages and proselytizing that students who didn’t want to participate, didn’t feel free to do so,” Hamilton said.

The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree that goes into effect today that prevents the district from engaging in officially sponsored school prayer, requires them to remove Christian religious messages and places restrictions on the use of religious facilities for school events. Hamilton says it’s a comprehensive agreement.

“They are permanently enjoined from promoting, advancing, endorsing, participating or causing prayers during or in conjunction with school events,” Hamiltion said.

The Webster School system argued that the religious ceremonies were student initiated and led, but Hamilton says the ACLU’s investigation concluded that that wasn’t the case, as they found the administration was selecting students, and requiring they read a prayer over the intercom in the morning.

“Picking students to be volunteers, those students would come to the front office and read a prayer that they chose to read or given a copy of the Lord’s prayer and we see this whole process to be very coercive,” Hamiliton said.

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