A Louisiana law allowing daily spoken prayer by students and teachers in public schools violates the constitutional separation of church and state and would violate the rights of students.
That's the message that two civil liberties groups will deliver on Wednesday, Oct. 3, to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed suit Dec. 3, 1999, challenging the state law, as well as officially sanctioned religious worship in the Ouachita Parish public schools. A federal district court ruled in favor of the groups, and now the state of Louisiana has taken the case to the appeals court.
Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan, lead counsel in the Doe v. Foster case, will present arguments to a three-judge appeals panel at the Federal Courthouse, 600 Camp Street. (The argument is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.)
Said Khan, "At a time when Americans are coming together to face a national crisis, we must not divide our children along religious lines in the public schools.
"This statute fans the flames of division and intolerance by throwing a match onto the incendiary mix of prayer, politics, and the public schools. Legislators should spend their time and energy putting fires out, not setting them."
The conflict springs from 1999 when the state legislature amended a state law allowing a brief time each day for silent prayer or meditation. The amendment struck the word silent, thus allowing spoken prayer by both teachers and students.
"Public school students must never be turned into a captive audience for worship services they may not believe in," said Khan.
The state law and regular religious worship in the Ouachita Parish public schools were challenged on behalf of two families within the public school district who oppose the practices, but have asked to remain anonymous.
Americans United is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization, founded in 1947, that works to defend religious liberty by supporting the separation of church and state. The Louisiana ACLU is the state affiliate of the national ACLU, a 300,000-member organization founded in 1920 that frequently litigates church-state cases to promote religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.