A few months ago, the Sabine Parish School District in Louisiana was sued by the state’s ACLU because of its “long history of proselytizing students and promoting religion.” The laundry list of complaints at Negreet High School alone was enough to make your jaw drop:
This all came to light thanks to the courage of plaintiffs Scott and Sharon Lane and their five brave children, including sixth grader C.C., a “Buddhist of Thai heritage” who doesn’t believe in God.
[C.C.’s] science teacher, Rita Roark, 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 told students that Buddhism is “stupid.”
When Plaintiffs objected, Sabine Parish Superintendent, Sara Ebarb, told them that “this is the Bible belt.” She suggested that C.C. should “change” his faith or transfer to another district school 25 miles away where, in her words, “there are more Asians.”
These weren’t just isolated incidents either:
Beyond Roark’s classroom, the school also regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events. School officials display religious iconography through 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.
This had been going on for years. Just look at this screenshot from the district’s old website (it’s since been revised):
C.C. transferred to another school to get away from his teacher and administrator, but the proselytization didn’t end. His new school continued to have prayer at assemblies, prayer over the public address system before football games, and his teacher even read them a story about the birth of Jesus.
Roark never learned her lesson either, as she continued to offer extra credit to students willing to profess their faith in the Christian God:
She demands that students write a Bible verse or “Isn’t it amazing what the Lord has made” at the bottom of exams and assignments if they want extra credit. Roark writes “Yes!” next to the verse or religious affirmation and awards students five additional points when they comply with this mandate.
In social studies class, which Roark also teaches, she presented Biblical accounts of persons, places, and events as fact. For example, on a handout asking, “What mountain did Moses supposedly get the Ten Commandments from,” Roark crossed out the word “supposedly.” She also has told students that the Bible is “100% true” and that “scientists are slowly finding out that everything in the Bible is accurate.”
That’s why the family finally sued to put a stop to this madness and recover the money they’d spent transporting their son to a different school. Father Scott Lane even wrote a piece explaining why he filed the lawsuit, reiterating just how badly religion had permeated the environment in this district.
Keep in mind that this only came to light earlier this year. The district had likely been preaching instead of teaching for who-knows-how-long. How many students came and went through those school doors without saying anything out of fear of being ostracized and humiliated like C.C.? How many non-Christian students hesitated to speak up because they didn’t want to be the sole voice of opposition? How did Roark get a job teaching science anywhere outside the Creation Museum? How did this superintendent still have a job after making openly racist comments to one of her students?
Well, there’s finally a resolution to this case.
On Friday, federal district court Judge Elizabeth Foote decided in favor of the Lane family by way of a “consent decree.” In short, the school district promised to stop proselytizing and denigrating other faiths, essentially raising a white flag of culpability, while technically getting off the hook for violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The district also promised to begin in-service training about what the First Amendment says you can and cannot do for staff members beginning this fall. Additionally, they will owe the Lane family $40,000 for their attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses; Sharon Lane will receive $4,000 to make up for the costs of driving her son to another junior high school; and Scott, Sharon, and three of their children will receive $1 each for “injury” damages, an amount that recognizes that the family members suffered while acknowledging that this was never about the money.
Some of the Board’s District-wide practice and customs alleged in the Complaint, if proven, would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some of the Board’s practices and customs (a) endorse and promote religion, (b) have the purpose or effect of advancing religion, and/or (c) coerce religious exercise either directly or indirectly.
The Clerk shall enter judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs. In adopting this Consent Decree, the Court has ensured that it comports with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Part of me is thrilled that the Lane family came out on top… while part of me is frustrated that the school got away with a slap on the wrist. By promising to never break the law in the future, they evaded punishment for breaking the law in the past (minus the pittance they owe the family).
The ACLU is happy — as, I suppose, we all should be — because the Lane family can finally move on from this ordeal. It didn’t come without a heavy cost, though:
While C.C. and his family have received much support from the community (including from some local congregations) and from across the country, they also have been harassed via crank calls to their house and work. And last month, C.C.’s mother Sharon was accosted while doing yard work: Three people wearing KKK-type white hoods drove by her and shouted, “You fucking nigger Asian-loving bitch.”
Had Sabine Parish proactively sought to comply with the Constitution in the first place, the Lanes would not have been forced to expose their family to such vitriol, harassment, and intimidation simply to assert their fundamental rights. We hope their experience and the consent decree will serve as important tools to educate Louisiana’s educators — public school officials — about real religious liberty.
This lawsuit should never have had to be filed. Unfortunately, this public school district was more interested in pushing one kind of religion onto its students than it was respecting their religious differences and following the law.
They got off easy. But at least it won’t happen again.
(Portions of this article have been taken from an earlier post — Thanks to Richard for the link)