A Louisiana teenager and her mother filed a lawsuit against the public school system in Webster Parish, alleging that it has implemented prayer and religious doctrine at Lakeside High School where she attends.
However, CNN reports a large and vocal group of townspeople are vehemently against the changes, which they say are a vital part of their faith and tradition.Screenshot/CNN
For 17-year-old Kaylee Cole and her mother Christy Cole, though, there is no question that religion should be kept out of public schools. Kaylee recounted to CNN how she experienced animosity from classmates during “The Lord’s Prayer,” recited on the P.A. system following the Pledge of Allegiance.
KSLA reports that Kaylee would sit down during the prayer.
“Whenever I started sitting down for the prayers, I could just feel every pair of eyes on me.”
Kaylee was raised Christian like her classmates, but according to KSLA, Kaylee said she became agnostic when the school put pressure on her to pray. Kaylee told CNN that if she wanted a religious education, she would have attended a private or parochial school.
CNN reports that Kaylee and her mother believe that this religious culture at her school is openly “in defiance of the Constitution.”
According to the Coles’ lawsuit:
Virtually all school events — such as sports games, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies — include school-sponsored Christian prayer, religious messages and/or proselytizing.
Kaylee submitted photos of signs on the wall in a classroom to CNN, with daily objectives listed such as, “Love God,” “Worship God” and “Read the Bible.” Kaylee recalled how a teacher told her that the Bible needed to be taken literally after slamming it down on her desk and a science teacher called evolution “a fairy tale.”
The Coles have gained the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which helped them file the lawsuit against the Webster Parish school system.
When students returned from Christmas break, because of the pending lawsuit, Kaylee’s school no longer recited “The Lord’s Prayer” in the morning, according to CNN. Other Webster Parish schools have either instituted a moment of silence or have asked students to sit down after the pledge, even though the court has not yet been reached its decision.
Other residents in Webster Parish are unhappy with the lawsuit and claim that they are unable to separate their daily lives from their faith, as it serves as the basis from which they live their lives. This deep faith has spanned generations, and they perceive the lawsuit as an impingement on their religious freedom.Screenshot/CNN
CNN reports that a Webster Parish woman, whose name was not disclosed, said:
“If people are telling us, saying leave faith at the door, it just isn’t that simple. It’s what’s in our hearts from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. It isn’t something we can turn off. And that’s true for our children too.”
Greg Lee, the father of a fifth-grade girl, echoed similar thoughts:
“You’re asking me how is it that I can take the marrow out of my bone. It is so deeply steeped inside of who I am … If you begin to tell me that my children do not have the right to pray in school, then that’s an attack upon the relationship I have with my God and the relationship that they have with our God.”
However, Christy said that she and her daughter are not asking students to stop praying at school — they just don’t want it performed before a “captive audience.”
Christy told CNN:
“Anybody can pray any time they want, wherever they want. They’re just not allowed to have a captive audience to do it. And I really feel like Kaylee (has) been part of that captive audience … I don’t believe they’ve ever conformed to federal law here, and at this point it is just tradition just to completely defy it.”
The school district filed a response to the lawsuit, claiming that the prayer delivered in the morning was voluntary and that prayers were not said at student games or activities. They also rejected Kaylee’s claim that religion made its way into the science curriculum. The signs on the wall have since been taken down.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, a bill was proposed recently which would allow the Bible to be studied at high schools across the state. WOAI reports that the bill would allow for religious scripture to be taught in elective social studies courses.
Representative Dean Fisher (R-Montour) who proposed the bill, along with 11 other Republicans, said:
“I really believe in order to properly understand American history and culture, you really need to have some understanding of the bible as well.”
Fisher said that the proposed course would not be a requirement in public high schools, but would give school boards the option to incorporate it into their schools.
WOAI reports that Connie Ryan, the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa called the bill “inappropriate and extreme” because it would mean favoring “one particular religion over the other.”
Ryan said that she thought the bill was unnecessary because school boards can already choose to have courses focused on religion, such as “Comparative Religion,” in which students learn about the five major religions. She said that courses such as this one “are teaching about religions. It’s not indoctrination. It’s not proselytizing.”
However, Fisher maintained that the potential course offering is not meant to achieve either an indoctrination or proselytization of students, as Ryan suggested.Screenshot/CNN
“It would simply go through the bible like you would go through any other book you were studying as literature and learn the stories and the major themes of the bible and also study how those stories and themes have impacted our history and culture.”
The two situations — in Louisiana and Iowa — beg the question of whether public schools nationwide have the constitutional right to teach religious texts in public schools or create a faith-based, school-wide culture; would prohibiting the recitation of prayer in schools violate individuals’ First Amendment rights? Or is it a way of protecting them?
To some, it may seem out of the realm of reason to allow religious texts to be taught or prayers to be said over an intercom at a public high school. But for others, not allowing the prayers to be said in school on a daily basis is perceived as an infringement on their core values and beliefs. It will be interesting to see how this issue resolves in the coming months ahead.
You can watch the original CNN story below.