Teachers and administrators in Tangipahoa Parish continue to violate a court-imposed school prayer ban, according to the ACLU, which Wednesday asked a federal judge to send them to jail. For the fourth time in less than two months, the ACLU has formally notified the judge that school officials are flouting the prayer ban, imposed to settle a lawsuit the civil liberties group filed for a parent in 2003.
This time, the group says, an elementary school teacher in Tangipahoa Parish repeatedly held prayers in her fourth grade class, encouraged students to bring their Bibles to school, held Bible study classes in the cafeteria of D.C. Reeves Elementary School and admonished students who didn't show up for the class.
In addition, the ACLU cites a prayer it says was recently given at Amite High School, over a loudspeaker, at an awards banquet. The prayer ended with the words "In Jesus' name we pray," violating the ban; the principal of the school sat silently by.
Wednesday's filing is the latest skirmish in a decade-long battle between the ACLU here and school authorities in the rural parish north of Lake Pontchartrain over the place of religion in the classroom. The group contends parish school officials systematically flout the Constitution's Establishment Clause forbidding the mixing of government and religion.
Court decisions have repeatedly favored the civil liberties group, including the two latest ones -- a 2004 prayer ban in the schools and a February decision by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan banning prayer before school board meetings. The school board Tuesday night pressed on with its appeal of that decision, announcing the addition of a national Christian-oriented legal group to its team, the Alliance Defense Fund.
At the same time it warned school employees against flouting the court prayer ban. That warning preceded by hours, however, the ACLU's latest contention that some in Tangipahoa continue to ignore the court's orders.
"The consent judgment is repeatedly violated by these individuals because they do not believe anything will happen to them," the ACLU said in its Wednesday court filing. "Their refusal to comply with the consent decree should and must result in their removal from society."
Under the agreement, no "invocations by students to the student body over the school's public address system, during assemblies or at any school sponsored event" are allowed.
A lawyer for the school board said the latest allegations would be "thoroughly investigated" and "disciplinary actions" would be taken if they hold up.