A Federal District Court Judge has ruled that the Tangipahoa Parish School Board committed civil contempt by allowing officially sanctioned prayers by students at two school-sponsored events in 2005. The ruling stems from the third and fourth motions for contempt filed by the ACLU plaintiff to enforce the terms of a 2004 agreed to Consent Judgment. The original lawsuit on this matter was filed in 2003 on behalf of a parent with two children in the school system that wants school officials to stay neutral in matters of religion and obey the law.
"The ACLU applauds the court decision, which vindicates the plaintiff's position that a school board member and two principals abdicated their duty to uphold the Constitution," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "Hopefully, the Board will finally honor the right of parents to determine if, how, when, where and to whom their children should pray."
In the matter at hand, a prayer was offered by a student at an off-campus banquet for those enrolled in the General Cooperative Education course in April of 2005. Another instance of contempt occurred at a May 2005 on-campus awards banquet at which a student offered a prayer.
The original 2003 case that spawned the contempt motions involved pervasive advancement of religion by officials throughout the Tangipahoa Parish School System: prayers over the intercom, prayers at football games and at school sponsored events, and prayers at school board meetings. The Court has found the law in favor of the plaintiff in all cases. The Consent Judgment prohibits officials from "allowing invocations by students to the student body over the school's public address system, during assemblies or at any school sponsored event." The school board appealed the decision banning prayers at their meetings, which remains in effect while a ruling is pending.
Cook goes on to say, "If school officials in Tangipahoa Parish want to impart moral values to children in their care, then start with the civic virtues of honesty, good citizenship, ethics and respect for the freedom and rights of others. But religion should be practiced in the home, the church, the synagogue, the temple and the mosque and not at official events."
ACLU Cooperating Attorney Ronald L. Wilson of New Orleans and ACLU Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann represent the Plaintiff. The ACLU is the foremost defender of individual freedom as embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
A copy of the opinion may be seen here.