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ACLU: Deal reached in student teacher's suit over school prayer

By The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that it had reached a settlement with Southeastern Louisiana University and the Tangipahoa Parish School Board over a lawsuit filed by a student teacher who said she was punished for speaking out against classroom devotionals.

Cynthia Thompson filed suit in May 2005 against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board, a teacher and officials at SLU, saying she entered a "nightmare" of constant prayer and proselytizing in a fourth-grade class.

Thompson questioned how a teacher encouraged students to bring Bibles to school, prayer in class and the holding of Bible classes in the school cafeteria. Instead of supporting her, Southeastern officials forced her out of the student-teaching program, denied her a university degree, and a chance at a teaching certificate, she charged.

The ACLU said yesterday that SLU would remove the failing grade Thompson received for the student-teaching course and permit her to enroll in the future so she can graduate.

"The case has always been about free speech and fair treatment," Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement. "The ACLU appreciates the efforts of the court in helping the parties to reach a compromise that removes the tarnish from honor student Thompson's file and allows her to pursue a degree at some future time."

SLU and Tangipahoa School Board officials could not be reached for comment for this story.

The Tangipahoa Parish School District has repeatedly come under fire from the ACLU for prayer-related infractions, including prayer before school board meetings.

Judge agrees to hold onto notebook at center of legal dispute
Move is expected to forestall Louisiana university's expulsion of former student teacher who claims supervising teacher in public school proselytized fourth-graders. 06.30.05


Louisiana teachers get lesson on school prayer

More than 1,000 Tangipahoa Parish teachers take class in effort to avoid further lawsuits over religion in public schools. 08.16.05

5th Circuit studies prayer at school board meetings

During oral arguments, judges ask pointed questions of attorneys on both sides of Louisiana dispute. 02.09.06

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

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

Graduation prayer lands La. district in hot water — again
'I'm not aware of any school district that's been sued this many times for religious freedom,' state ACLU head says after Tangipahoa Parish is hit with 6th suit in 13 years. 06.10.07

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

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

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