Secular groups insist on freedom for Louisiana students


The nation’s leading secular organizations, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are standing in support of freethinking students in Louisiana.

As recently reported in the national media, school authorities have informed students and parents in the Bossier Parish Schools system that student athletes would be disciplined if they protested during the playing of the national anthem. The same reports indicate that one football game following this announcement was prefaced by a student-led Christian prayer over the public address system.

Both aspects trouble the six organizations that have jointly drafted letters to various Louisiana public school entities. These groups campaign to protect the freedoms set out in the First Amendment to the Constitution. They stand for the protection of the free speech of the students concerned, as well as the need for the preservation of the wall of separation between church and state — two cornerstones of our freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control,” the organizations write. “Furthermore, retaliation against a private individual for the exercise of their constitutional rights itself amounts to a violation that exposes teachers and administrators to personal liability.” 

The groups add that 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 this 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.

As organizations committed to the First Amendment, the signatories to the letters are also concerned about what appears to be a school-sponsored religious prayer delivered before a football game by a student. 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.

“The Supreme Court has been clear that religious activities, like this, a public prayer delivered on at a high school football game, using publicly owned equipment, constitute an endorsement of religion which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” they state. “As the court made clear, even student-led prayer in such a forum was unconstitutional.”

Nearly 75 years ago, the Supreme Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette spoke forcefully on this precise issue:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

The organizations are requesting 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. They are also asking for a copy of the school district’s policy regarding prayers at school events, including athletic contests.

“Students have rights under the First Amendment, too,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “They should not be subjected to coercion or intimidation.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for the separation of church and state and educates on matters relating to nontheism. It has more than 29,000 members residing in every state of the United States and chapters all over the country.

The six co-signatories to the letters are the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, American Humanist Association, the Secular Students Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America. Is Graham trying to make these coaches hypocrites in the eyes of his god?

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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