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Bossier School Board to follow through with lawsuit alleging promotion of Christianity in schools

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Students join together in prayer during a student led prayer rally in Bossier City earlier this year. (Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune)

The Bossier Parish School Board will have its day in court as the board directed its attorney to fight the lawsuit alleging unconstitutional actions involving the promotion of Christianity.

The board met in executive session Tuesday afternoon to discuss the lawsuit as well as Christ Fit Gym’s recent restraining order against the Benton High School Booster Club  following the removal of the gym’s logo from Benton High School’s football field.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of seven Bossier Parish families filed a lawsuit against the district earlier this year.

The families’ children currently attend or have attended elementary, middle, and high schools within the district since 2015. The lawsuit alleges widespread use of prayer on school property, during school events, in classrooms, at sporting events, at graduation ceremonies, during awards assemblies, and at student government meetings. It also alleges that school officials openly proselytize students in Christianity.

The board said during their vote today that they cannot come to an agreement and instructed their attorney, Jon Guice, to move forward with the lawsuit.

“Based on our previous efforts to work through this case at this time, we do not believe we can come to an agreement,” said board member Shane Cheatham.

The Bossier Parish School Board previously said in a statement that it would change policies and train all administrators, teachers and coaches in response to the lawsuit. In April, the board approved a nine page document that outlines procedures for both students and school employees and sets guidelines for student speakers at school events, student clubs, and how potential policy violations will be handled.

“We have not changed our position on the policy, we have not changed our position on what the law is, we’ve simply decided that trying to settle this is not going to be fruitful and we’ll ask the judge to make a decision on who’s right or wrong,” said Guice.

“We have a disagreement as to the law,” he added. “The facts are fairly clear…Our policy has a complaint process. If anyone feels as though that policy has been violated, they can certainly call that to our attention.”

The board also voted to restore the advertising for Christ Fit Gym — a Christian, faith-based nonprofit gym in Bossier City — on Benton High’s field, effectively immediately.

The motion was made by Brad Bockhaus and the board approved it unanimously.

The gym filed a restraining order Friday, Sept. 7 in state court after Benton High School allegedly told students to remove the gym’s logo, which contained a cross and Bible verse, from the field.

“I prayed and I prayed. And this is what God wants me to do. I am 100-percent sure of it. I just want the logo back on the field,” said Billy Weatherall, owner of Christ Fit Gym, told the Press-Tribune this weekend.

The temporary injunction shows the gym paid $3,500 to have their logo on the field for the 2018-19 season.

The board’s legal counsel originally advised administration that the logo should be removed pending consultation with the court. The Bossier Parish School Board was reportedly unaware of the logo and had not discussed the issue before Tuesday. They were also not named as a defendant in the restraining order.