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Religious Harassment Lawsuit filed against Sabine Parish School - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Religious Harassment Lawsuit filed against Sabine Parish School

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SABINE PARISH -

A picture of Jesus Christ- not exactly the image you'd think would be hanging in a public school hallway. But according to a recent lawsuit, that's exactly the case at Negreet High School in Many, Louisiana.  And now - the Sabine Parish School Board, the superintendent of the district, school principal, and one of its teachers are facing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to the complaint, after the Lane family enrolled their son -- a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent -- in school the student, identified as C.C., became the target of harassment by school staff.  The lawsuit alleges "school officials have a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian beliefs."

Among the pieces of evidence used in the lawsuit, is a picture of Jesus Christ hanging in the school, bible passages in the hallways, and video of the school's marquee with a religious passage scrolling.  On the school district's web site, funded by taxpayer dollars, the district's statement of beliefs begins with these two words: "God exists."  But beyond that, is the harassment C.C. allegedly endured in defendant Rita Roark's science class.

"One of the things in the complaint is when talking about other religions, she would say, Buddhism is stupid," according to ACLU rep Deborah Allen.

The lawsuit accuses Roark of having this question on an exam.  It reads: "Isn't it amazing what the _______ has made!"  The question was left blank by C.C. His teacher filled in the answer "Lord."

After hearing that their son was ridiculed in class, Scott and Sharon lane took the matter to the superintendent, more than once.

"When the family went to the superintendent of the schools, her suggestions was either to convert to Christianity," says Allen, "or move outside the district where there are more Asian children."

C. C. is now enrolled at Many Junior High School, which according to his family, is more than 30 minutes from his home - and still a school that the ACLU claims, also promotes Christianity and imposes religious exercise on students.

"The suit is asking that the school no longer teach religion. As well as reimburse the family for cost of transportation outside the district," says Allen, "We've also contacted the Department of Education and the Department of Justice for them to look into this."  

The lawsuit centers around the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … ,"  and the Fourteenth Amendment, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

After many years of confusion and spirited debate about the place of religious discussions in schools, the Department of Education released these guidelines to all public school Principals in the United States.  

In addition to the current lawsuit, the ACLU asks that the DOE and DOJ also look into whether or not the teacher, principal and school board have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  Title VI states that:

    No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

We can confirm that Monroe attorney Neal Johnson will be representing all defendants.  At this point the case should come before Judge Elizabeth E. Foote of Shreveport.  The school board has released the following statement:

"A lawsuit only represents one side's allegations, and the board is disappointed that the ACLU chose to file suit without even contacting it regarding the facts. The school system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously."

Currently, Rita Roark is still working at Negreet High School.  The school board now has time to file its answer in the court, which could happened within the month.

Ben Riggs is the director of the refuge meditation group - and American-Buddhist community in Shreveport told us,  "I think a lot of time people in our area want to pretend as if this stuff doesn't still go on."  And he went on to say that "A sixth grade child isn't going to be capable of dealing with, at least not in a healthy and effective way, this type of pressure being placed on him by adults and not just adults, but adults that have been placed in his life as authority figures."    

In addition to the links above to government issued documents, if teachers are still asking themselves how they are to reconcile their own beliefs with U.S. law, the First Amendment Center has resources specifically for public school teachers, even lesson plans on the First Amendment.  

This lawsuit has already generated heated discussion on many news sites.  Some of the comments on the ACLU's blog claim to be from people with direct knowledge of either the parish, the defendants, or the issue in Louisiana, and therefore may be of interest to our readers.  You can visit the ACLU's blog here or view some of the comments below.

- I went to this school. Every word this man (Scott Lane) says is true. The science teacher (Mrs. Roark) and the principal (Gene Wright) are brother and sister. They are exactly the same. The principal would call the homosexual people into his office and talk to them about how they are all going to burn in hell. I know this because one of my friends is gay. No one has every gotten proof of this or has even tried because they were to scared of what would happen. I moved and looked so stupid at my new school when my teacher asked me about the big bang theory and evolution. I had no idea what she was talking about. I looked like a dumba** in front of my whole class. I would get the "lord " part wrong because I didn't capitalize it. I am happy that your child and you actually had the courage to expose the school for what actually happens inside not just for what everyone else sees it as. Non of the other students found it offensive because they were raised that way.

-That is totally outrageous. I think it's so stupid if you don't believe in Jesus then just don't go to our school that's all and ya (sic, Yeah) she dose (sic does) do that but she is a great teacher and we didn't evolve from monkeys sorry that's just not what happened so she is just teaching the truth

-To the people calling this story BS... it's real... I've delt with similar problems for years in a different parish...

- Okay...I have never before posted a comment on any blog or forum, but after reading through all of the previous statements, I felt compelled to do so this time. While I understand that this story seems horrible and outrageous to anyone who just reads the headlines, I would like to remind all of you that only ONE side of this case has been presented. If you all are so into an individual's rights according to our laws, then how about the one that says innocent until PROVEN guilty??? Most of you have already persecuted this parish, school, school board, and teacher without even hearing the other side of the case. You may offer up all the reasons in the world to justify why, but to me it is crystal clear that once you saw it was a Southern state in a small town, you automatically jumped to your own conclusions that this family's statement was 100% true, and that everyone involved and from that community was a bunch of backwoods religious fanatics with no tolerance for anyone who maintains beliefs that differ from theirs. As a Southerner, I am beyond tired of this. I also find it very ironic that you all continually DO the same thing you are always complaining about...racial profiling, intolerance of others views and beliefs, and judging the cover instead of the book. As a member of this community, graduate of this school, former teacher at this school , and now parent of children who currently attend this school, I am beyond bothered by many of the comments that were made by some of you concerning this case when there are many holes left unanswered and many facts that are simply just not true.

So I would like to offer up the following for my own peace of mind. I doubt it will do any good in changing any of the opinions presented on here, but I will feel better knowing I at least got the information out there.

The first item that immediately jumped out to me after reading the Lane's case was the fact that no one addressed how supposedly this came about. I was not there and have no idea what Mrs. Roark did or did not say, but I find it very hard to believe any teacher, religious or not, would make some of the statements she is being accused of just out of the blue. Were they studying evolution as part of a science class? Were they having a class discussion on this topic? My guess would probably be that this is how this came about. And if so, I can tell you that as a former teacher, any time I ever had to teach these topics in Science classes, the STUDENTS would bring up the subject of God and the Bible. I would always hear the " But I though God created man?" " I thought God Created Earth?" questions any time we discussed this material. Of course my response would always be to tell them that some people look at things from a religious viewpoint and others from a scientific viewpoint, that neither was right or wrong, and they could choose what they wanted to believe, but were required to know the scientific explanation for purposes of test whether they chose to believe it or not. As a teacher going through college not so very long ago, where we were literally taught this is what you have to say regarding these topics, I knew better. As Mrs Roark is from a totally different generation than me, I doubt there was ever any discussion of this during her teacher training years ago. This was not an issue back then. So my point being, anything she might have said that was viewed as offensive, I seriously doubt was done out of malice. And that's IF she said anything, we are talking about one person's word here. Also not mentioned was the fact that the STUDENTS THEMSELVES may have even asked her what her opinion was. Again, I say this from experience. What is the correct way for this teacher to answer this question if this is the case? Especially when considering the size of our community, she probably attends church with several of the students and their families.

As for the "stupid" comment- I certainly would never defend any educator using this term in a classroom no matter the context. There is no defense or reason this term should ever be used describing a student under any circumstances. However, I would have to see some hard evidence proving to me this was actually said. If it was stated as they say, there should be plenty of students able to verify it. Knowing Mrs. Roark, I have a hard time believing this happened.

Another accusation I find questionable is the fill-in-the-blank test question. I cannot think of any reason this would be on a test. I can see it being given as some type of freebie bonus question at the end of a test. I have done this myself on occasion if I felt the subject matter of an exam was difficult. I'd give some type of off the wall bonus for an extra point or two. Never about the Bible, but maybe something like "Name all of Santa's reindeer". Just a little something to help the students out and perhaps make them smile. Maybe this was Mrs. Roark's way of doing the same. Again, I do not believe that it was something intentionally meant to target or single out a particular student. And if it was INDEED a bonus question, then the student would not have "lost points" as alleged. And may I also add that just because he answered it with the correct answer of "the Lord" did not mean he was agreeing with the statement. I certainly have answered many test questions on a variety of religions and cultures during my school years. Just because I was answering questions about slavery or Nazi Germany surely in no way implied I agreed with those situations. So this to me is a little ridiculous. Maybe he should've just answered the question if he knew what answer was being sought and received his extra points.

The other statements that this teacher is being accused of ( the Earth forming 6000 yrs ago, the Bible being 100% true, etc is all here say. Find these hard to believe as well and would need proof from other sources to change my mind.

Now for the things I can matter of factly tell you are untrue...these were the things that irritated me most. Our school is NOT made up of a bunch of "Bible Thumpers" shoving Christianity down everyone's throats. Our school, while small and rural, is a very diverse learning institution. We have students of all races and religious backgrounds. I have personally taught students there who were Christians, Jehovah Witness, Atheist, Mormon, Pentecostal, you name it. There have even been occasions where some of my former students did not participate in certain activities ( like Christmas programs, recognizing their birthdays, etc) because it conflicted with their beliefs. Their parents would simply send a note or call me after hours, explain the situation, and we worked out a plan. Sometimes it was to give them other activities to do, sometimes the parents kept them home on days of specific events and they were not counted as absent. If this child's religious beliefs were of such great importance to this family, why didn't the family contact the appropriate school personnel to explain the circumstances and come up with a plan? Furthermore, if our school is so full of Christian iconography and things they found offensive, why would they send their children there in the first place? I do not know this family or anything about them, but obviously they moved into our area from elsewhere. Call me crazy, but most TRULY concerned parents would consider the type of school their children will be attending a major factor in determining where they live. Yet according to their statement, their children have been attending our school for several years. They even state the older siblings had Mrs. Roark as a teacher in the past. Funny to me they are JUST now having all these issues and injustices.

I suspect there was a lot more going on with their son than just what they are protesting. Maybe he was having trouble fitting in with the other students. Sad to say, but this goes on with lots of kids regardless of all this Christian stuff they are alleging. Anyone who works with kids- especially middle school kids- will tell you kids are mean sometimes. That's just the way it is. I've gone through it, and so have countless others. It is ludicrous for anyone to imply this only happens at our little school. This goes on at any school in America. I feel like this child was having trouble with his peers, which is especially hard to deal with at his age, and this family has used all this religious talk as the scapegoat.

I would, for the record, like to let all of you know our hallways are NOT lined with scripture. The artwork in question is a painting that was done by a STUDENT. That student has a right to paint a portrait of Jesus if he/she so wishes just as this student would have a right to paint a portrait of Buddha. And if he won an art contest with his work as the aforementioned child, then it would be displayed as well- along with the many other trophies and projects and awards of students we have scattered throughout our halls. There is no daily prayer recited at our school. The See You At The Pole prayer is a nationwide activity that is done BEFORE school begins once a year, and the students decide if they want to attend or not. Yes, we do have local pastors that come in and lead a general prayer before big events like graduation, awards day, etc. There is no mention of any specific religion and really I think it's done more as a formality just like the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, there have been times our principal has led the school in a moment of silence during morning announcements. The few times I can remember were anniversary of 911, death of a student, or death of a faculty member. I see NOTHING wrong with this, and shame on anyone who does. What a sad world we live in if this is seen as wrong or discriminatory.

I have never witnessed any acts of intolerance by anyone at our school. To the contrary. We have interracial couples at our high school. We have students who are openly gay. We even had several kids a few years back who were into the whole Goth scene. There they'd be- at little ole Negreet- in their black attire , dyed hair, black lipstick. This I remember clearly because I even thought it was a bit much to be allowed in a school setting. But they were allowed to express themselves. A lot of them honor roll students. And students who had many friends. I have taught in several different schools within our parish, as well as in other much larger parishes and school systems. And I can honestly tell you that the student body at Negreet is by far the most integrated as peer/friend groups go. There are not a lot " clicks " like you see in most schools. Maybe it's because it's so small, but these kids are for the most part, all friends with each other. They all get along and their classes in many ways are like little families.

Sure they have the typical school age dramas from time to time, but on the whole, they are the most accepting of each other's different backgrounds ( economically, racially, religiously) out of all the schools I have personally seen.

I would also like for everyone to realize that we are in a very rural area. For most of the kids here, there's not much to do socially outside of school except church. We have several local churches with tremendous youth groups. These youth groups go to camps, go on snow skiing trips, etc. It is a great thing for some of the kids here who would never have the opportunity to do such things.

Because of this, they have a high participation rate. So I have no doubt that some of this carries over to the school. I'm sure the kids do discuss church activities together. So what!?! Is this a BAD thing? Why is this considered unlawful or discriminatory. I don't feel these students should have to be afraid to openly discuss these things at school for fear of making someone else feel left out.

And finally, the generalization most of you have done concerning our school could not be any more off the mark. I will not ramble on reciting piece after piece of evidence I could give all of you who are saying we are a bunch of ignorant rednecks. All I will tell you is to look up our school performance scores. Look up our percentages of students who qualify on the State level for Literary Ralley each year. Look up records of wins for our Quiz Bowl teams and 4-H teams. Look up our ACT scores and our percentages of students who score at the Mastery Level on State Testing each year. I think you might be surprised. Numbers don't lie. And as we say down here in the ignorant country backwoods, the proof is in the pudding.

I have heard our School Board will be fighting this case. I could not be more proud of them. I also could not be more proud to be from this area and this school, regardless of all the assumptions made by all of you intellectuals that hide behind computers. If you truly believe we should live in an open minded society that is accepting of all others, then maybe you should practice what you preach. ( No pun intended, please don't call me a Bible Thumper for using the term preach!). Take the time to investigate something before you yourself jump on the bandwagon of hate and slander. Just because this one family alleges something, that does not make it factual. And frankly, I question the motives of anyone who claims they don't want their son ostracized or singled out, but then does all this. Exactly how singled out must the poor little guy be now ?!?!

I do not know what will become of all this. I DO know we have an excellent school- a school that many others could learn from in more ways than one. Our school may be small and we may have different beliefs or ways of doing things, but it's what works for US and OUR children. You may look at us as backwards or outdated or ignorant- some of you even used the term "pitiful". But we don't look at your big city schools full of drugs and gangs and dropouts and places where the "F" word would be considered less offensive than the word "God" and feel inferior. To the contrary. We pity YOU.

- I attended this school as an atheist and was routinely mocked openly by faculty in the 1990's whenever I refused to participate, spoke against or even just state that I was an atheist. They made my life hell.

 

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