By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BOSSIER CITY — The Bossier Parish School Board has reached an agreement with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State over a lawsuit dealing with claims of religious discrimination in its schools.
According to a Jan. 22 news release from the school district, the board submitted a slight revision to its current Religious Expression Policy as part of the preliminary agreement.
While the court has not issued a final decision, the school board is optimistic a federal judge will approve the revision.
“The settlement allows for the closure of this case without the loss of any student rights, which is of utmost importance to the Board,” Bossier Schools Superintendent Scott Smith in the news release. “We are pleased to be able to resolve this matter without impinging upon our students’ rights, which we see as a victory for all of Bossier Parish.”
— protects the rights of students to pray at school and at school events;
— allows students to speak at school events;
— does not penalize employees who bow their heads out of respect for such prayers when offered;
— allows teachers of both substantive areas and the arts to teach about religion in an objective manner;
— allows student clubs of all kinds, including FCA, to continue to organize, meet, and be active on campus;
— allows students to express their own ideas verbally and to distribute literature; and,
— allows employees to wear items of jewelry that may include symbols associated with religion.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against the Bossier Parish Schools in March 2018 on behalf of seven parents who claimed “students who have been identified as believers in minority faiths or no faith at all have been subject to attacks, harassment, and ostracism by their classmates.”
The parents and children who engaged the ACLU in the dispute have remained anonymous, saying via the legal filings that they desired “protection against public exposure of their private religious beliefs, as well as protection against harassment and increased ostracism of their minor children attending Bossier Parish’s public schools.”
Students, pastors and other community members responded to what was described as an attempt to squash the First Amendment freedoms of religion and expression of Christian students and school employees by scheduling rallies such as the Student Freedom Summit and writing letters of support to school administrators in Bossier and Webster parishes.
Brad Jurkovich, one of eight area pastors who signed a letter dated Feb. 11, 2018, thanking school board leaders for fighting the lawsuit, voiced appreciation for the students who have taken a stance for Christ throughout the ordeal.
“Regardless of anybody’s perspective on this issue, as a pastor I am very grateful that students’ rights are once again affirmed so that all students have the ability to freely express their faith,” Jurkovich told the Baptist Message.
John Fream, pastor of Cypress Baptist Church, Benton, echoed the thought.
“We are thankful for our school leadership and their stand for the rights of Christians to be Christians,” he said. “It is unfortunate that a lawsuit like this can even have traction of any kind, but to God be the glory for the settlement. My prayer is that God be glorified and that Christians stand with love anytime our religious liberties are attacked.”