NEW ORLEANS, LA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today filed a case against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board because of an official prayer by a teacher at a graduation ceremony. The legal action, on behalf of a parent and his two children who attend Tangipahoa public schools, represents a record sixth court case by the ACLU against the same district for government endorsed religious activities over the past 13 years.
"The school board should stop preaching and start teaching that government sponsored prayers in public schools are illegal," according to Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "Parents and students should not have their constitutionally protected religious beliefs discounted and fundamental rights ignored as the price of attending a graduation ceremony."
The plaintiffs attended the commencement exercises of the Tangipahoa Parish School System for the PM High School on May 17, 2007, and subsequently filed a complaint with the ACLU. The program handed out at the event listed a student to give an invocation. As it turned out, a teacher and one of the defendants, Anthony Massi, actually gave a prayer that commenced with "Lord we thank you for..." and ended with "We pray for these things in Jesus' name, Amen." Along with friends and relatives of graduating students, faculty members and administrators attended the event. Among them being the school's principal Dale Brouilette and recently elected board member Ann Smith, who "condoned, approved of, participated and acquiesced in the giving of the invocation" by Mr. Massi. "They did nothing to prevent it from occurring, nor did they take any action to curtail it once it had begun."
"The taxpayers and residents of Tangipahoa Parish should be outraged that their elected officials continue to violate clearly established law," said Katie Schwartzmann, staff attorney for the ACLU. "The school board ought to stop wasting its money and time in court, which robs the children of resources needed for a quality education."
The American Civil Liberties Union stands as the foremost guardian of constitutional rights and civil liberties in the United States, including freedom of speech, association, and assembly; freedom of the press and of religion; and right to privacy, due process and equal protection under the law. The national organization has existed since 1920, and the Louisiana affiliate was founded in 1956.