NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a school board in Louisiana, alleging officials at one of its schools harassed a sixth-grader because of his Buddhist faith and that the district routinely pushes Christian beliefs.
The lawsuit was filed against the Sabine Parish School Board Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Shreveport on behalf of Scott and Sharon Lane and their three children. According to the complaint from the ACLU and its Louisiana chapter, the Lanes enrolled their son — a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent — in Negreet High School and he quickly became the target of harassment by the school's staff.
"Public schools should be welcoming places for students of all backgrounds," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "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."
In addition to the school board, the lawsuit names as defendant Superintendent Sara Ebarb, Negreet High Principal Gene Wright and science teacher Rita Roark. An office worker who answered the phone at the district Wednesday said Ebarb was out of town and unavailable for comment. A message on an automated voice mail system for a home number listed for Ebarb in Shreveport wasn't immediately returned.
The lawsuit said Roark has "repeatedly taught students that the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is 'impossible' and that the Bible is '100 percent true.'
"She also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as "Isn't it amazing what the ______ has made!!!!"
When the Lanes' son "did not write in Roark's expected answer (LORD), she belittled him in front of the rest of the class."
While studying other religions, she also has told students that Buddhism is "stupid," the lawsuit said.
Beyond that, according to the complaint, the school regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events and scrolls Bible verses on an electronic marquee in front of the school that greets students as they enter the building.
When the Lanes objected, Ebarb told them that "this is the Bible belt" and suggested they change their son's faith.
"The school district's administration — all the way up to the superintendent of schools — not only knows about these activities, but endorses and encourages all of this," the lawsuit said.
The ACLU also asked the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the school system.