The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Louisiana school district, claiming the district participated in religious harassment and pushed Christian beliefs on students. It pointed specifically to a local science teacher who discussed her Christian faith freely in class and said those who don't believe in God are "stupid."
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs Scott and Sharon Lane, as well as their three children, in the U.S. District Court in Shreveport on Wednesday. The lawsuit alleges that the Sabine Parish School District, which oversees 11 public schools including Negreet High School, practiced religious harassment against its students and blatantly imposed Christian beliefs in the public school system.
The lawsuit specifically mentions as defendants the Sabine Parish School Board, Superintendent Sara Ebarb, Negreet High Principal Gene Wright and science teacher Rita Roark. According to the Lane family, one of their children, a Buddhist of Thai descent, suffered harassment at Negreet High for his non-Christian beliefs, specifically from Roark.
The Lane family claims in the lawsuit that Roark openly discussed her Christian faith with her students, telling them "people are stupid if they think God is not real" and teaching the students repeatedly that "the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is 'impossible' and that the Bible is '100 percent true.'"
Additionally, the science teacher would, on multiple occasions, allegedly incorporate references to God in her test materials, including asking the question on one science quiz: "Isn't it amazing what the [blank] has made!!!" When the Lanes' Buddhist son, described in the lawsuit as C.C., did not know the answer to the question as being "Lord," he was allegedly chastised by the teacher, who eventually called Buddhism "stupid."
The Lanes also argue that the public school district promotes the Christian religion in other ways too, including official prayer in class and at school-sponsored events, religious images around the school such as a portrait of Jesus, and Bible verses on the electronic marquee at the school's entrance.
In spite of the Lane family's claims, the school district has reportedly stood behind its expression of its Christian faith. When contacted by the family regarding the issue with their son, the Sabine Parish superintendent, Sara Ebarb, reportedly explained to them that they live in "the bible belt" and must get used to Christian expression.
Additionally, after the Lane family met with Ebarb, the superintendent reportedly sent a letter to Negreet's principal, Gene Wright, thanking the staff for standing strong in their religious beliefs and influence on students. This letter was reportedly read aloud to students over the intercom.
The Lane family has since transferred their son C.C. to another school in the district to avoid the alleged harassment, but the family argues their child has met the same resistance for his non-Christian beliefs at his new school as well.
The Sabine Parish School Board has yet to issue a statement on the controversy. When The Associated Press tried contacting Ebarb via the school district's office, it was told the superintendent was out of town and unreachable.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement regarding the lawsuit that "public schools should be welcoming places for students of all backgrounds. No child should be harassed and made to feel like an outsider in his own classroom, and students should not have to endure school officials constantly imposing their religious beliefs on them while they are trying to learn."