A Louisiana school board rebuffed the ACLU at a meeting when it passed a resolution calling the organization’s recent threats unwarranted.
In September, the ACLU issued a demand letter to the Bossier Parish School Board in Bossier City, La., part of Shreveport’s greater metro area. The letter claimed Airline High School had engaged “in a pattern of religious proselytization” by allowing Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a student-led club, to post “prayer boxes” throughout the school. In addition, the letter targeted the school’s principal, Jason Rowland, for using the phrase “God bless you all” in a school newsletter.
“This unlawful religious coercion is improper from any school employee, but it is particularly egregious coming from the school principal, whose job is to teach and uphold, rather than violate, the legal rights of all,” the letter said.
The letter concluded by demanding the school remove the prayer boxes, erase any references to prayer from its website, reeducate its employees concerning religious indoctrination, and inform all students and parents of the changes.
The school board issued a statement saying it would investigate the claims and respond to the ACLU after the Oct. 1 board meeting, the Shreveport Times reported.
But community support for the school was swift. At the Friday night football game the next day, hundreds of parents and students showed their support for Rowland, with some folks wearing homemade T-shirts stamped with “We support Mr. Rowland” or “#IStandWithAHS,” NBC affiliate KTAL News reported.
Freedom Guard, a legal organization headed by state Rep. Mike Johnson, offered to represent Rowland pro bono, should the ACLU sue the school.
“[The ACLU’s] alarm is as misplaced as it is ridiculous,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the school board. “The Supreme Court has always acknowledged that simple references to God, even by officials of the state, are an essential part of our culture and deep religious heritage in this country and are in no way a violation of the Constitution.”
And it turned out, the school was not littered with prayer boxes after all, according to the Shreveport Times. The boxes were an idea the Fellowship of Christian Athletes considered as a way to reach out to students in need.
But if the student group decides to pursue putting up prayer boxes, Rowland told Freedom Guard he “certainly would not and could not prohibit such a religious display,” as long as they followed all applicable student organization policies, because it would violate the students’ First Amendment rights.
On Oct. 1, the school board met behind closed doors to discuss the ACLU’s demand letter and issued a unanimously passed resolution: Its investigation found the accusations of high school staff engaging in religious proselytization to be “without a factual or legal basis.”
“The board wishes to publicly reaffirm its intent to operate a successful school district in which equal access is recognized and the legal rights of all students are respected, including those of its students who wish to engage in student-lead, student-initiated religious expression,” the statement said.
The ACLU has yet to respond to the resolution.