The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit today against the Sabine Parish School Board, alleging that officials at one school harassed and proselytized a sixth-grader because of his Buddhist faith. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two parents, Scott and Sharon Lane, and three of their children, including their son, "C.C.," who is a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent.
"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."
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, C.C enrolled in Negreet High School, which serves students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, earlier this year and quickly became the target of harassment by school staff. His science teacher, Rita 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."
Roark also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as "ISN'T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" When C.C. did not write in Roark's expected answer, "LORD," she belittled him in front of the rest of the class. While studying other religions, Roark has also told students that Buddhism is "stupid."
Beyond Roark's classroom, the school also regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events. School officials display religious iconography throughout hallways and classrooms, including a large portrait of Jesus Christ, and an electronic marquee in front of the school scrolls Bible verses as students enter the building.
When the Lanes objected to these practices, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb told them that, "this is the Bible belt." She suggested that C.C. should "change" his faith and advised the Lanes that their only recourse was to transfer him to another district school 25 miles away where, in her words, "there are more Asians." Ultimately, C.C.'s parents did transfer him to another school to protect him, but school officials there also unconstitutionally promote religion.
"The treatment this child and his family have endured is not only disgraceful, it's unconstitutional," said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
In addition to the federal lawsuit, the ACLU and ACLU of Louisiana will submit complaints and requests for investigation today to the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.