Respect The Rights Of All Students, AU Tells La. School District

A Louisiana public school must stop sponsoring prayer and other religious activities, Americans United and three other organizations said in a letter to school officials.

Americans United intervened in Bastrop, La., in May, after graduating senior Damon Fowler came under fire for asking officials at his public high school to stop sponsoring official prayers at graduation.

School officials reluctantly agreed to end the longstanding practice and said they informed speakers to ask for a moment of silence instead of a prayer. But instead of taking charge of the ceremony themselves, school officials turned the matter over to a student speaker. She refused to follow the school’s directive and recited the Lord’s Prayer anyway.

Fowler came under brutal attack in the community. He wrote on a website, “I’ve had to deactivate my Facebook account and I can’t reason with any of them. They refuse to listen. The whole town hates me, aside from a few closet atheists that are silently supporting, which I don’t blame them looking at what I’ve incited here.”

In addition, a faculty member publicly criticized Fowler. Mitzi Quinn, a teacher for nearly 25 years, said that in the past, students who were atheist, agnostic or non-Christian “had no problems” with the prayer.

“They respected the majority of their classmates and didn’t say anything,” Quinn said. “We’ve never had this come up before. Never.”

Quinn added, “And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates.”

Fowler was even disowned by his own mother and father, who told him to leave the house. After graduation, he went to Texas to live with his brother.

Americans United, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a joint letter to officials at Bastrop High School and members of the school’s Board of Trustees, telling them to do more to end unconstitutional religious practices in the school.

The letter noted that it is deeply troubling that the high school has a long history of including official prayer at graduation, despite clear law on the subject.

“Only when a student complained and threatened to sue did the School District take steps to discontinue this practice by replacing the prayer with a moment of silence,” the letter asserts. “The steps taken, however, were far from effective. Instead of having a school official deliver the moment of silence – which would have ensured that the opportunity was not abused – school officials turned to a student.

“Not surprisingly,” the letter continued, “the student chose to deliver the Lord’s Prayer – while school officials sat idly by. To date, no apology has been delivered to the community by Bastrop High School officials or the Board of Trustees, for either past or recent events.”

The organizations asked the school officials to apologize to Fowler and to take steps to ensure that future graduation ceremonies do not include prayer.