2007 Press Releases

4.19.2007: ACLU prompts Ouachita Parish School Board officials to scuttle any plans for repeat of illegal graduation prayers this year

School Board needs remedial course on constitutional law

MONROE, LA - Faced with an imminent ACLU lawsuit, the Ouachita Parish School Board has agreed to scuttle any plans for a repeat of illegal graduation prayers at the Ouachita Parish High School.  An individual at last year's ceremony complained and asked for help from the ACLU to get the matter resolved. 

"School officials knew or should have known that the Constitution prohibits sectarian, proselytizing prayers at a public school graduation," remarked Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana.  "In order to comply with the law, teach tolerance and good citizenship, public schools must not favor one religion over another, or belief over non-belief." 

Based on a meritorious complaint and a copy of the graduation program[1] from May 16, 2006, showing ministers giving a religious invocation and a benediction, the ACLU sent a demand letter[2] to Principal Todd Guice and Superintendent Dr. Robert Webber.  The prayers both ended in "the name of Jesus, we pray."  Legal counsel for the school district responded in writing and said "that the circumstances complained of in the letter will not be repeated at this year's graduation ceremony."

"The ACLU sincerely hopes that the Ouachita Parish School Board will finally enforce a policy throughout the school district that requires school administrators to understand and comply with the religious liberty clause in the Constitution," Cook goes on to say.  "Unfortunately, the ACLU has had to sue the district twice during the past 11 years over on this very issue: first on book banning for religious reasons in 1996 and again in 1999 on prayers in the classroom and over the intercom." 

ACLU Cooperating Attorney Charles Kincade of Monroe worked on the case and said, "Resolution of this matter is another victory for the separation of church and state.  People should not have to compromise in matters of conscience in order to attend a graduation ceremony."

To assist administrators, parents and students in understanding the meaning of religious freedom in the public school arena, the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana has published on line a Students' Rights Handbook.  It can be accessed athttp://www.laaclu.org/index.php?page=student

[1] See graduation program at http://laaclu.org/PDF_documents/OPSB_CommencementPrg.pdf[2] See demand letter at http://laaclu.org/PDF_documents/OPSB_Demandltr_030907.pdf