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Graduation prayer lands La. district in hot water — again

By The Associated Press
06.10.07

AMITE, La. — Tangipahoa Parish school officials are facing yet another lawsuit over religion, this one filed by a parent objecting to a teacher-led prayer at a recent high school graduation ceremony.

It’s the second such lawsuit in as many months and the sixth in 13 years involving religion in Tangipahoa Parish public schools, according to Joe Cook, executive director of Louisiana’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s certainly a state record,” Cook said. “I’m not aware of any school district that’s been sued this many times for religious freedom.”

The suit, backed by the ACLU, was filed June 6 by a man identified as John “P” on behalf of his children Jane “P” and Joan “P,” both of whom are students in the school system and several years from graduation, according to the suit.

They attended a May 17 high school graduation ceremony for Tangipahoa P.M. High School in Hammond.

At the ceremony, John “P” received a program that specified a student would deliver the invocation. Instead, a faculty member at PM High School gave a prayer that began with “Lord we thank you for ... “ and ended with “We pray for these things in Jesus’ name, Amen,” the suit states.

John “P,” who is Catholic, found the invocation “offensive and objectionable” because it served to advance only one faith, Christianity, the suit claims.

Tangipahoa Parish School officials had not received a copy of the allegations outlined in the suit as of June 6, according to schools spokeswoman Cindy Benitez, who added that district policy prohibits further comment regarding pending litigation.

Last month, a parent filed a federal suit claiming the district permitted the distribution of Gideon Bibles to a class of fifth-graders while on school grounds. The board has also been sued for allowing teacher-led prayer in the classroom, over the intercom, at school-sponsored events and during board meetings.

A settlement was reached three years ago, in which the district agreed to stop advancing and promoting religion at football games and other school-sponsored events. Prayer at school board meetings was deemed unconstitutional in February 2005, but the board is appealing that decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Update
La. board agrees teacher-led prayer was unconstitutional
Federal judge had given Tangipahoa school board deadline to concede that teacher-led graduation prayer was out of bounds. 06.29.08

Related

Louisiana school district seeks help in defending religious lunch clubs

State civil rights group preparing suit against policy that permits pastor to lead meetings on school grounds. 04.02.99

Supreme Court refuses to review evolution-disclaimer case
Louisiana school district had sought to require that teaching of evolution be accompanied by disclaimer mentioning 'the biblical version of creation.' 06.19.00

La. school board held in contempt for violating prayer ban
Federal judge finds prayers offered by students at two school banquets breached 2004 agreement between ACLU, Tangipahoa officials. 07.02.06

ACLU: Deal reached in student teacher's suit over school prayer
Cynthia Thompson sued Tangipahoa Parish School Board, Southeastern Louisiana University, saying she entered 'nightmare' of constant prayer, proselytizing in fourth-grade class. 10.04.06

Divided 5th Circuit panel opens door for nonsectarian school-board prayer
Majority upholds district judge's view that Tangipahoa, La., board's previous practice of prayer violated First Amendment ban on government promotion of religion. 12.18.06

ACLU sues La. school system over Bible distribution
Lawsuit, which is fifth filed against Tangipahoa Parish over religion in 13 years, claims middle school principal improperly allowed people to hand out Gideon Bibles to students. 05.18.07

Divided 5th Circuit vacates ruling on La. school-board prayer
Majority finds plaintiffs lack standing to challenge practice, sends case back to lower court with instructions to dismiss. 07.26.07

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