Louisiana Parish Sued For Indoctrination Of Religion By Buddhist Family

170px-rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_079-1There is a troubling case out of Sabine Parish, Louisiana which, according to a Buddhist family, acted more like a real parish than a public school district. A Buddhist family sued Sabine Parish School Board for violating their right to religious freedom with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. If the allegations are true, the district is engaging in astonishing levels of entanglement with religion in one of the most extreme violations of constitutional law in decades.

The lawsuit describes hallways with “[p]aintings of Jesus Christ, Bible verses, and Christian devotional phrases adorn the walls of many classrooms and hallways . . . A lighted, electronic marquee placed just outside the building scrolls Bible verses every day . . . . . . several posters urging students to “Pray,” “Worship,” and “Believe,” while a poster displayed near the waiting area of the main office announces that “[i]t’s okay to pray.”

The ACLU says that staff members “routinely lead students in Christian prayer” and teachers have been known to distribute religious literature like the bible readings contained in Truth for Youth” literature which denounce evolution, birth control and other evil influences in society. The lawsuit also alleges that Sabine Parish superintendent Sara Ebarb asked the family about whether they could “change” their boy’s religious beliefs and whether it might the better to enroll in a school some 25 miles down the road where “there are more Asians.”

The ACLU filing highlights the alleged conduct of social studies teacher and Defendant Rita
Roark:

Roark also routinely requires students to provide written professions of faith on science exams and other tests and assignments. Verif. Compl. ¶ 30. The required religious professions have typically consisted of fill-in-the-blank Bible verses or religious affirmations as test questions. Id. On one occasion, the final question on an exam presented students with the following fill-in-the-blank question: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Having been raised a Buddhist, C.C. did not know the expected answer and left the question blank. Id. ¶ 32. Roark marked it incorrect, wrote “LORD” in the blank in red ink, and returned the test to C.C. Id., Ex. A. She also scolded C.C., with the entire class listening, for not writing in the correct answer. Id. C.C.’s sister, who is also in Roark’s class, jumped to her brother’s defense, explaining that C.C. is a Buddhist and does not believe in God. Id. Roark returned to her desk, at which point a student remarked that “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in
God.” Roark looked up and shook her head “yes” in affirmation of the student’s remark. Id.

Roark is accused of making fun of the answer again in front of the class and agreeing with another student calling the failure to believe in God to be “stupid.”

The family alleges that when they complained about such incidents that they were told that they live “in the Bible Belt.”

The lawsuit gives other incredible details and returns to the conduct of Roark:

Roark continues to promote her religious beliefs to her students, including C.C.’s sister, during science class and at other times. Id. ¶ 43. In recent months, she has repeatedly instructed students that evolution is not valid as a scientific theory and that God made the world 6,000 years ago. Id. ¶ 44. She demands that students write either a Bible verse or “Isn’t it amazing what the Lord has made” at the bottom of exams if they want extra credit. Id. ¶ 45. Roark writes “Yes!” next to the verse or religious affirmation and awards students five additional points when they comply with this mandate. Id. In addition, in social studies class, Roark presents Biblical accounts of persons, places, and events as fact. Id. ¶ 46. For example, on a handout asking, “What mountain did Moses supposedly get the Ten Commandments from,” Roark crossed out the word “supposedly.” Id. She also has told students that the Bible is “100% true” and that “scientists are slowly finding out that everything in the Bible is accurate.” Id.

The school district has responded by “”The Sabine Parish School Board has only recently been made aware of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. A lawsuit only represents one side’s allegations, and the board is disappointed that the ACLU chose to file suit without even contacting it regarding the facts.” That is pretty tepid. Given some of these allegations, I would have preferred an immediate statement saying “of course these are ridiculous allegations. We are not a school district in Bora Bora. Geez.”

If even a fraction of these allegations are true, the district is looking at major liability in this litigation. While the district says it would have liked more time, these are open and egregious violations. This may be “the Bible belt” as the parents were allegedly informed, but it is also part of the United States and subject to basic constitutional limitations under the First Amendment.

You can get the documents from the ACLU at this site.

81 thoughts on “Louisiana Parish Sued For Indoctrination Of Religion By Buddhist Family”

  1. Elaine,
    I do remember the article you wrote. It still amazes me that people can be for freedom of religion, as long as it is their religion. We need the public schools funded completely. If private schools or private charter schools want to exist, they need to find their own funds. Especially when they are pushing a religious doctrine.

  2. Bullying by religious people is just as wrong as bullying by non religious. Non Christian children have been marginalized in public schools for generations. We are of a nation that compromises all sects, faiths, belief systems or lack of them, colors and genders, all those people pay taxes too, their children do not need to be ostracized in public schools.

  3. This is unconstitutional. But, let me provide the perspective of people like RobinH and the folks in this parish. They hearken back to the days when there was prayer in school. When you could sing Christmas Carols, have a Christmas tree, damn call it Christmas vacation not “Winter vacation.” There are more examples and these traditions that have been changed aren’t generations ago. The pendulum has swung the other way as is the way of the world. Many here will say “tough shit” it’s the constitution. Well, you’re correct. My take is have some empathy for these good people. This has been a tough 3-4 decades for them. The constitutional people are correct. That does not make the religious people bad, just incorrect.

  4. Darren,
    The problem with these kind of school districts is that this religious intolerance is what the voters want. Mike A. had it right that it is an prime example of an unconstitutional attempt by a public school to turn a public school into a religious school.

  5. Nick:
    I’ve never seen you ridiculed dueto your faith. I’ve seen your ideas ridiculed that deal with precepts and rightly so. No idea here is immune from analysis and critical thinking about its premise or basis. I find most religious dogma internally inconsistent and downright foolish but I acknowledge that dogma is well-subscribed. Then again the flat earth theory was well-subscribed too.

  6. Mike:

    It is rather hard to fathom a school district engaging in this kind of policy despite the almost certainty it will result in legal liability and economic costs, especially given the fact many schools claim, usually rightly so, they are short on cash and education is suffering.

    One would think basic citizenship and an understanding of the legal constraints placed upon school policy would be incumbent upon the schools’ administration. One has to question the suitability of these administrators to their positions. But I guess when people put themselves on the school board ballots with an agenda other than what might be constitutional but reflects their own opinion, it is something that the public should watch out for.

  7. Hi everyone. I just checked out the comments and saw this sudden exchange revisiting past issues and conflicts. Once again, this type of rehash or prior wounds offers little to the rest of the folks on the blog and pulls us back to personal tit-for-tats. It has nothing to do with the merits so I would appreciate if everyone would either return to merits or move on.

  8. Elaine,
    You really need to learn to be more obsequious with the new hall monitor. Don’t be so uppity. Having counter opinions are frowned on. Especially if you are writing while female.

  9. nick,

    “Teacher and now defense attorney. I’m saying it happened, you’re saying it did not.”

    I didn’t say it didn’t happen. You made accusations that you chose not to back up with proof.

    *****

    “For anyone to say that some of the rabid atheists have not attacked and mocked people of faith is ludicrous on its face.”

    That’s what you say. Who are the “rabid” atheists of which you speak? How did they attack people? What did they say? How did they “zing” you?

    *****

    You fail to acknowledge that you have been spoken to on more than one occasion about your behavior on this blog.

    Richard Sherman is not “my guy.” When did I say that I approved of his trash talking rant? I thought people were making a mountain out of a molehill. I was appalled by the racist response of some Americans to what he did. I expressed my opinion on the subject. You disapproved of what I had to say. So it goes.

  10. Teacher and now defense attorney. I’m saying it happened, you’re saying it did not. Your proof is a buddy who says “I have not seen” just like Sgt. Schultz. For anyone to say that some of the rabid atheists have not attacked and mocked people of faith is ludicrous on its face. I think the problem has been solved by the new civility rule and the exodus of some unwilling to abide it. Isn’t it nice to not see epithets like “racist, homophobe, sociopath, etc.” flying around here. I think it’s nice. But, I found your guy, Richard Sherman’s rant offensive, as did the many people. The problem seems to be solved on both accounts. Let’s look forward and be positive.

  11. nick,

    You said: “As I’ve said, I am very private about my faith and the anti evangelical model. And, I have gotten some zings from atheists here.”

    You implied that atheists on this blog “zinged” you because of your religion. When you make an accusation, you should be able to back it up.

    ******

    You also said: “Robin, Unfortunately, people of faith are often ridiculed here. I hear ya’!”

    Otteray Scribe said that he had not seen people ridiculed because of their faith. He wrote:

    “I have not seen people ridiculed here because of their faith, unless it is a cult or scam, but they become fair game if they try to inflict their faith on unwilling others.”

  12. God Elaine, not another assignment. The radical atheists here have ridiculed religion and those who practice it MANY times. I was part of some of those threads. I got out quickly because I’m not an evangelical, and I don’t argue religion. I consider it private matter between me and God. To say you have never seen religion and religious people ridiculed puts you in competition for the Sgt. Schultz Award. “I see nothing.” There are some very respectful atheists around these parts. But there are/were some bomb throwers.

  13. God, and the elements have been rough on Louisiana. Here are the lyrics from the Randy Newman song on the subject:

    What has happened down here is the wind have changed
    Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
    Rained real hard and rained for a real long time
    Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

    The river rose all day
    The river rose all night

    Some people got lost in the flood
    Some people got away alright
    The river have busted through cleared down to Plaque mines
    Six feet of water in the streets of Evangelne

    [Chorus]
    Louisiana, Louisiana
    They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
    They’re tryin’ to wash us away
    Louisiana, Louisiana
    They’re tryin’ to wash us away
    They’re tryin’ to wash us away

    President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
    With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
    The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
    To this poor crackers land.”

    [Chorus]

  14. There is nothing the least bit complicated about this case. I would classify it as a constitutional no-brainer. A public school district has decided that it will incorporate Christian doctrine (and a specific brand of Christian doctrine at that) into its classroom instruction. It has also decided that students who object may either resign themselves to humiliating treatment from their teachers or withdraw from the public school system. Anyone with a pulse understands that this is unlawful. Any suggestion that objecting to the actions of the school district is somehow an assault on “people of faith” is absurd.

  15. Robin, prayer has not been taken out of the schools. As my minister says watch any schoolroom of kids before they take a test and you will see a lot of praying. What has been taken out is the compulsion of one religion over another (My school was 75% jewish but in elementary school every morning we had to say a prayer led by the teacher and then one kid would read from the new testament. At Christmas there were only Christmas songs, since it was the Christmas concert. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur absences the line ran around the school almost since 75% of us had to present legitimate absence letters from our parents for having missed school on the majority’s holiday.).
    To try and lay the blame for the increase in school shootings etc at the foot of “they took prayer out of the schools” is disingenuous at best. They have also had more violence throughout the world, there is news 24 hours a day showing violence, there are video games and movies with higher violence levels, etc. The world and society as a whole, sadly, has become more violent. Would you prefer we become like Iraq, Iran where we become a theology and people without Faith, much less, the proscribed Faith, become bullied (as happened in this school in the post), and much, much worse.

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