Leaders support AHS after ACLU letter

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State leaders and community members have rallied in support of Airline High School and Principal Jason Rowland after a letter from the ACLU went public addressing “a pattern of religious proselytization” at the school.

The letter from Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman claims that Airline has established “‘prayer boxes’ with Christian symbols throughout the school” and “by religious messages in newsletters posted on the school’s website.” Esman also points out a message posted on the Airline High School’s website from Principal Jason Rowland that includes, “The Future Starts Today – May God Bless You All…” in it. Esman writes, “There is no question that the principal has violated these legal mandates by invoking God, prayer, and Christianity in school publications and on school grounds.”AirlineLogo

However, State Representative Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, said both the law and the facts are on the side of Airline High School.

“Even in public schools, you have the right to free speech and free exercise of your religion,” Johnson said. “If we don’t exercise our rights, they are taken away from us. Maybe this will encourage people to remember those rights.”

Johnson, who is the Freedom Guard’s CEO and Chief Counsel, has spoken to Rowland since the letter went public and has offered pro bono legal defense to the Bossier Parish School System.

“I told [Jason Rowland] you have done nothing wrong, nothing inappropriate and to stand your ground and we’ll represent you free of charge,” Johnson said.

Sonja Bailes, Public Relations Liaison for Bossier Schools, told the Press-Tribune that Superintendent D.C. Machen has received the demand letter from the ACLU as well as the letter from Mike Johnson with Freedom Guard. Both letters have been referred to the Board’s legal counsel for review.

The Bossier School Board will enter into executive session at its Oct. 1 meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. in the Bossier Instructional Center. Further comment from Bossier Schools on the subject will result from any action taken by the board at that meeting.

Johnson said he has been invited in to the executive session to discuss the legality of the situation with school board members. His plan is to encourage the board to stand for religious freedom and to ignore the demands of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).

A prayer rally will also be held Saturday, Oct. 3, at 8 a.m. in the northeast parking lot at Airline High School. Johnson said this is certainly not a political event, but one for the community to join hands around the school and pray.

He predicts there will be thousands in attendance Saturday morning.

“I think this is a wake-up call for people to recognize that their freedom will be taken way if they don’t take a stand,” Johnson said.

Airline High School has gained the support of Governor Bobby Jindal and U.S. Senator David Vitter. Jindal said the ACLU letter is just the latest example of “political correctness run amok” and that the “war on Christianity has gone too far.”

“The Left has become so fixated on stomping out every reminder of Christianity in public spaces that they have now stooped to the ridiculous step of criticizing how people greet each other,” Jindal said. “Next, the ACLU is going to be forcing schools to outlaw the phrase ‘God Bless You’ after a student sneezes. The School principals and teachers should not feel pressured to suppress their own beliefs in order to satisfy an over-the-top politically correct agenda.”

Vitter, who plans to attend Saturday’s prayer rally, said, “I think it’s vital that we stand up and fight back against these attempts to trample on Louisianians’ right to freedom of religion. It’s quite clear that the ACLU fails to recognize that students have the right to pray in school as long as their praying does not interfere with the school’s teaching mission or with the rights of their fellow students.”

Vitter added that trying to keep a principal from saying ‘God Bless’ is “just ridiculous.” He said the students and parents at Airline High School in Bossier City have his full and complete support in their fight for freedom.

Bailes added that “the Bossier Parish School System enjoys an established record of achievement” and that “such success is due in large part to the fact that, as in this case, the system respects both the law and the religious beliefs of all its students and employees.”

A copy of the letter from the ACLU can be found on the Bossier Press-Tribune website.