Americans United's efforts to settle a lawsuit challenging a variety of school-sponsored religious practices in a Louisiana public school district collapsed in September after officials with the district abruptly pulled out of the process and canceled settlement talks. The case will go to trial next year.
Acting on behalf of local parents, Americans United sued the Bossier Parish system earlier this year over a variety of unconstitutional practices in its schools. (See "Getting Schooled On Prayer," March 2018 Church & State.)
The lawsuit, Does v. Bossier Parish School Board, challenges a multitude of practices in the Bossier Parish Schools that violate students' religious freedom, including: school events held at churches, often in sanctuaries or other rooms replete with religious iconography; school events, especially graduation ceremonies, including prayers as part of the official program; extensive promotion of religion within school athletic programs; teachers proselytizing in classrooms, including leading students in prayers; official endorsement of Christian student clubs and community events, including teachers sponsoring Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs and encouraging students to participate by handing out promotional materials in class; teachers promoting creationism in class; and religious displays in classrooms and administrators' offices.
After the lawsuit was filed, school officials expressed an interest in settling outside of court and signaled that they were open to altering their policies. Accordingly, attorneys with Americans United traveled to Louisiana and met with the officials and their legal counsel to find an agreeable resolution.
But those efforts fell apart after an incident at Bossier's Benton High School in early September. A local Christian ministry that sponsors a fitness center that runs on donations called Christ Fit Gym had paid to have its logo painted on the school's athletic field. The ministry's logo features a cross and a Bible verse, and school officials, acting on advice from their attorneys, ordered the logo removed, reported the Shreveport Times.
A ministry official, Billy Weatherall, threatened to sue if the logo were not restored. He also took the story to national conservative media outlets, which distorted it, generating significant outrage inside and outside the community. The parish school board met in a special session on Sept. 11 and ordered the logo to be repainted on the field...