The people running Louisiana’s Bossier Parish Schools recently doubled-down on their policy requiring student athletes to stand during the National Anthem, forbidding them from staging any sort of kneeling protest. They had passed the rule, received plenty of criticism, then voted again to keep the policy in place.
Superintendent Scott Smith said this a couple of weeks ago:
… The least Bossier Schools can do is expect our student athletes to stand in solidarity when the National Anthem is played at sporting events in honor of those sacrifices.
In Bossier Parish, we believe when a student chooses to join and participate on a team, the players and coaches should stand when our National Anthem is played in a show of respect. This extends to those that elect to join a club or student organization, which requires a faculty sponsor…
Because of that abrogation of the students’ rights, mixed with the fact that this district allowed Christian prayers over the loudspeaker before a football game, six atheist groups joined forces to write a letter to District officials warning them of a potential lawsuit.
Punishing students for speaking their minds runs counter to one of the main objectives of our public schools: training our children to become active participants in a free society. Moreover, it forces students and parents to protect their rights through litigation, the financial burden of which will ultimately be shouldered by the school districts themselves, whose resources would be far better spent on instructing students, rather than defending short-sighted violations of their fundamental freedoms.
We therefore request that Bossier Parish Schools rescind its policy regarding the National Anthem and inform the district’s students and parents that students will be permitted to express their views in a non-disruptive manner without fear of retribution. We also request that the district instruct the principals, administrators, and faculty on right to free speech enjoyed by all public school students.
By permitting and endorsing such prayer, the schools involved are sending a message that students of no religious faith, or those of minority faiths, are lesser than their Christian co-students. Such a message goes completely against the purpose of the public school system, which is the education of all children to be good and productive members of society, and instead places the religious views of only some on a pedestal.
Recently, the school board responded to that claim with a vote to keep the awful policy in place. Their lawyer even added that the policy doesn’t violate the First Amendment because “all the cases cited by groups like the ACLU pertain to classroom activities and not extracurricular activities like football games.”
(Spoiler: Football games still count as a school-sponsored activity. The First Amendment is still in play.)
Now, a member of Congress is weighing in. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson, who used to do “religious liberty” litigation, says the school district has every right to mandate forced patriotism.
… [The Bossier Parish Schools] are not going to bend over and bow to the whims of these atheist, radical, secularist groups, and that’s who’s picking on them once again.
Look, these groups are on a search-and-destroy mission for all things religious, and now, by extension, all things patriotic, and they pick on Bossier because they know it’s a very conservative area of the country and the people there are all those things. They are patriotic, and they deeply revere our religious heritage in the country…
The atheists aren’t going after conservatives, because they would go after any public school pushing these illegal rules.
They’re not picking on patriots, because atheists are patriots (whether or not Mike Johnson wants to believe it). They serve in the military, too. Atheists are trying to warn the District against doing something idiotic before it’s too late — and the school board is ignoring the advice entirely.
Johnson isn’t helping. He tried explaining the distinction between rules in the classroom and rules during sports events, but it was muddy at best. Probably because the rules aren’t any different. You can’t allow students to exercise their rights inside the building but force student athletes to stand against their will during the Anthem.
If the Bossier schools want to fight this, they’re only hurting the students by throwing good money at a bad case. It doesn’t matter who represents them; they will eventually have to pay the atheists’ legal fees when they lose the case. If this goes to court, it will backfire on the schools. It’s as simple as that.
All because the board can’t handle students exercising their rights and protesting systemic racism on the field. And because a member of Congress doesn’t understand the law he took an oath to defend.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)