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,”