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Reagan’s Secular Group, Along With 5 Others, Target Bossier Schools

Ron Reagan Signs Copies Of "My Father At 100"
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Six of the biggest “Separation of Church and State” groups in the country have all taken aim at Bossier Parish Schools.

The groups include the Center for Inquiry, American Humanist Association, the Secular Students Alliance, American Atheists, the Secular Coalition for America, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The final group on that list, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is a group that features spokesperson and board member Ron Reagan. The son of former US President Ronald Reagan.

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The groups have sent a letter to Bossier Parish School Superintendent Scott Smith to notify them of multiple suspected violations of students’ First Amendment rights. The Letter starts out:

“As reported in the national media last week, students and parents in Bossier Parish School district were told by school authorities that student athletes would be disciplined if they protested during the playing of the National Anthem. The same reports indicate that one game which followed this announcement was prefaced by a student-led Christian prayer over the public address system. Both aspects of this trouble the signatories to this letter, who are representatives of national organizations that campaign to protect the freedoms set out in the First Amendment to the Constitution”

The letter goes on, over 5 pages, to lay out the three main points of the groups, which all center around one event. Essentially this entire letter is a response over the National Anthem letters put out by officials in the school district. The letter addressed the schools position with the following:

“The letter went on to state that Bossier Parish Schools would “be in full support” of any school official who chose to discipline any student athletes who “elect not to stand during the National Anthem.” The day after Superintendent Smith issued his proclamation, individuals in the stands at a high school football game in the district reported that dozens of uniformed police officers were in attendance. This edict by Superintendent Smith flies in the face of long-established law. Nearly 75 years ago, the Supreme Court in West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette spoke forcefully on this precise issue: If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us. We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control. 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943). Furthermore, retaliation against a private individual for the exercise of their constitutional rights itself amounts to a violation that exposes teachers and administrators to personal liability. Morgan v. Swanson, 755 F.3d 757, 760 (5th Cir. 2014). Punishing students for speaking their minds runs counter to one of the main objectives of our public schools: training our children to become active participants in a free society.

Moreover, it forces students and parents to protect their rights through litigation, the financial burden of which will ultimately be shouldered by the school districts themselves, whose resources would be far better spent on instructing students, rather than defending short-sighted violations of their fundamental freedoms.

Free speech is not “free.” One of the prices of free speech is that we are often forced to tolerate the speech of others, even though we may vehemently disagree with their message. This is particularly true of government officials who are likely to encounter private citizens with disparate, conflicting views. Government officials are obligated not simply to tolerate such contrary points of view, but actively protect the right of the citizen to express them

The second section actually addresses something noted while the national media was covering any potential protest after the initial letter was sent out. As the letter reads:

 “As organizations committed to the First Amendment, the signatories to this letter are also concerned regarding what appears to be a school-sponsored religious prayer delivered before the game by a student. According to the report in the Washington Post:

As to the announcer at Airline High School’s stadium, where Parkway High School’s football team played Friday, asked the crowd to rise for a prayer and the national anthem, some Parkway players silently linked arms in their white jerseys, forming a line down the sideline.

A female student delivered the prayer, thanking Jesus.

The Supreme Court has been clear that religious activities, like this, a public prayer delivered on at a high school football game, using publicly owned equipment, constitute an endorsement of religion which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. See Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000).

As the Court made clear, even student-led prayer in such a forum was unconstitutional. As the Court noted:

In this context the members of the listening audience must perceive the pregame message as a public expression of the views of the majority of the student body delivered with the approval of the school administration. Id. at 308.

The signatories to this letter all support the maintenance of the wall of separation between church and state and work to further the goal of a secular society that respects the rights of all of its members.”

The third part of the letter was to point out to the school that the LHSAA and Louisiana School Boards Association also “bear responsibility” in these situations. Pointing out that if the order to punish students came from either group, they need to change as well.

The lawyers and leaders of the groups finish the letter by requesting immediate action in three areas, including changing schools policies right away. The groups’ lawyers and leaders have given the school district 5 business days (as of October 5th) to advise them of the changes.

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