Louisiana ACLU, Students Fight Christian Proselytization, Indoctrination at Public High School
Religious fundamentalists and constitution-minded secularists are locked in an intense debate over Christian indoctrination at a public high school in Louisiana.
Slate reports students—including Muslims and the non-religious—at Airline High School in Bossier Parrish, Louisiana are allegedly forced to read Bible passages in health class, during which a teacher asks them to identify their favorite scriptural verses. One student alleges the health teacher in question “tries to convert everyone in class” to Christianity.
Other students at the public high school report being taught the scientifically discredited theory of divine creation as scientific fact, being pressured into attending Fellowship of Christian Athletes club meetings and being warned against using birth control by a “born again virgin” from the local ‘crisis pregnancy center’—a Christian, anti-abortion, anti-premarital sex advocacy organization.
Pastor Mike Welch of Bistineau Baptist Church and Airline principal Jason Rowland are digging in for a fight after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to the school in September, telling officials to stop aggressively proselytizing students. The ACLU warned that the school’s Christian indoctrination stands at odds with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which bars the establishment or promotion of an official religion by government officials.
“It has been brought to the attention of the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana that Airline High School… has engaged in a pattern of religious proselytization by establishing ‘prayer boxes’ with Christian symbols throughout the school and by religious messages in newsletters posted on the school’s website,” the ACLU letter read in part. “We also understand that the principal of Airline, Jason Rowland, has encouraged students to ‘pray to the Almighty God.’
This letter is to inform you that these practices violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution and comparable provisions of the Louisiana Constitution, and they must stop immediately.”
“There is no question that the principal has violated these legal mandates by invoking God, prayer, and Christianity in school publications and on school grounds,” the ACLU warning letter continued. “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.”
Despite dominating the spiritual and even cultural landscape throughout much of the South, Christian fundamentalists have responded to the ACLU action by claiming they are under attack. Freedom Guard, a conservative legal advocacy group “dedicated to the defense of religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and traditional American values,” announced it would represent Airline in its fight, KSLA reports.
“Christians, we’ve taken enough stuff lying down,” Pastor Welch says in a widely-circulated video posted on Facebook. “I flat refuse, in America, to be forced into hiding as a Christian!”
Yard signs calling Rowland a ‘prayer warrior’ then appeared in front of Airline’s flagpole, as did hundreds of Christians and their supporters, including men in leather Christian Motorcyclists Association jackets and students wearing Fellowship of Christian Athletes T-shirts, during a recent prayer protest. One woman with a loudspeaker told the gathered faithful that the ‘Lord’ would intervene on their behalf. “Get ready, he’s here,” she said, although no deity figures were spotted at the event.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who is running for governor, did appear at the rally, where he railed against “the left who wants to push religion out of the public square.” Current governor and Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal issued a supportive press release accusing the ACLU of waging a “war on Christianity.”
“This is typical of the ACLU,” state Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) told Fox News. “They’re on a seek-and-destroy mission for all things religious. I hope the school will stand its ground.”
That’s exactly what Airline High School seems to be doing.
“I’ve never had a complaint from a student of ours who was offended by the fact we saluted a message or even said to them God bless you,” insisted Rowland during a recent interview with Fox News Channel’s morning show Fox and Friends. “If it gets to that point and you’re not even allowed to sneeze within a school system and say ‘God bless you,’ where’s our culture? Where are we going if that’s going to be offensive to someone?”
“If this is now going to be offensive, what’s next? And so our community and our school system decided this is where it stops,” continued Rowland, adding that he had no intention of complying with the ACLU warning letter.
This isn’t the first time Bossier Parish public schools have been caught teaching creationism. Earlier this year, Slate reported that the biblical Book of Genesis was being used to ‘debunk’ the scientific theory of evolution, despite the facts that scientists overwhelmingly believe in evolution and that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever supporting creationist theory.
Tagged ACLU, Airline High School, Bobby Jindal, Christian indoctrination in public schools, David Vitter, Jason Rowland, Pastor Mike Welch, prayer in public schools, religious liberty, separation of church and state, teaching creationism, theory of evolution