It was back in December when we learned the Webster Parish School District in Louisiana was effectively functioning as a church. In a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, on behalf of Christy Cole (a practicing Baptist) and her daughter Kaylee (a junior at Lakeside Junior and Senior High), there was documentation of more than 30 separate acts of religious proselytizing in the school.
You should read the entire list, but it included prayers over the loudspeaker, an assembly featuring a Christian ministry that urged students to attend church, an adult leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes preaching to kids during a lockdown drill, a teacher showing the film God’s Not Dead in class, etc.
30 of these things. Any one of them would’ve been a problem, but this was devastating.
The good news is that it’s all going to come to an end. Theoretically.
On Friday, both sides signed off on a consent decree. By definition, the court isn’t saying the District is guilty, but administrators will have to put an end to all the religious promotion.
Under the consent decree, Webster Parish School District is prohibited from promoting prayers during school events, organizing religious services for students, unnecessarily holding school events at religious venues, and allowing school officials to promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Webster Parish will also provide faculty training and education on the school’s obligations under the agreement.
“The consent decree is a binding court order,” explained [ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce] Hamilton, adding, “We will be closely monitoring the school district’s compliance with it and will not hesitate to seek judicial sanctions against those who violate it.”
The District will also have to pay the ACLU’s legal fees (though the exact amount is in dispute). The Coles will receive $1 — which should blunt any claim that they were in this for the money.
What’s frustrating about this resolution is how the District is acting like it didn’t really do anything wrong.
Webster Parish School District Superintendent Johnny Rowland told CNN, “We were glad that the matter has been resolved.”
Rowland is pleased the courts “respected the rights of students to exercise their First Amendment right,” which includes praying if they want, just without the daily use of the school loudspeaker system, he said.
Rowland believes the district has not “admitted any violations,” he said, but instead showed it is “smart enough and honest enough” to admit that the way prayer was conducted, in some aspects, could be viewed as inappropriate.
When has anyone ever stopped students from praying on their own?! Never. Never is when it’s happened. Rowland is saying he’s pleased that the courts didn’t stop the District from doing something perfectly legal, as if that’s a victory for Christians.
And while, technically, the District didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, his admission that the District is “smart enough and honest enough” to stop breaking the goddamn law is a pathetic pick-me-up. A smarter and more honest District, with smarter and more honest administrators, wouldn’t have allowed this problem to happen in the first place.
What the hell. Just admit the District screwed up royally, thank the Coles for bringing this to the public’s attention, and vow to make sure the District will always work to follow the law and punish anyone who violates it. That’s what a responsible superintendent would do. Rowland should find one of those and take some lessons.
While the consent decree will change the school’s official stance on prayer among students, Rowland said, he expects those with strong faith will still turn to God in the schools’ hallways.
“As long as there’s tests in schools, there will be prayer in school,” he joked.
Hahahahahahahaha, hilarious. Rowland doesn’t give a damn about all the ways his District pushed religion on kids, so he’s just cracking jokes like nothing happened.
If that’s the attitude he has, it sends a clear message to everyone who works for him: Keep doing what you’re doing, because I don’t take these violations seriously.
I hope the Coles and other students stay on the lookout for more violations in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if more occur soon.
(Image via Shutterstock)