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School board approves religious expression policy

Bossier students join hands in prayer during the Freedom Student Summit held April 8. Pictured (left to right) are Audrey Smith; Airline HS; Kailey Mulhearn, Airline HS; Macie Billings, Airline HS; and Hannah Grace Moock, Haughton HS. (Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune)
Amanda Simmons, amanda@bossierpress.com

The Bossier Parish School Board approved a policy that outlines religious expression during Thursday’s regular meeting.

The board went into executive session to discuss a nine page document that outlines procedures for both students and school employees. It also sets guidelines for student speakers at school events, student clubs and how potential policy violations will be handled.

The board members emerged and voted in favor of the policy 7-3. Dennis Bamburg, Bill Lott and Mike Mosura were the dissenting votes. Brad Bockhaus and Eric Newman were absent.

A draft of the document, found on the Bossier Schools website, says Bossier Parish students “have the right to express their ideas verbally and through the distribution of literature so long as their speech does not disrupt the ordinary operation of school.”
 It also says students “may pray, discuss their faith, read the Bible or other religious texts, and invite others to participate in such student-lead activities during non-instructional time.”

The document clarifies that “non-instructional time” means “before or after school hours, between classes, during lunch or recess times, or during such times as may be set aside for student club meetings.”

School employees, however, are not permitted to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or at school events and that the teaching of religion in class will be academic in nature, not devotional, according to the document.

“While students are free to share and promote their personal religious beliefs pursuant to federal and state law, the School District and its Officials may not endorse or sponsor religious activities in schools,” a draft of the document reads.

The school board’s consideration of a religious expression policy comes after a lawsuit earlier this year alleging widespread use of prayer on school property and during school events, in classrooms at all levels, at sporting events, at graduation ceremonies, during awards assemblies and at student government meetings. The suit also alleges that school officials openly proselytize students in Christianity.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against Bossier Schools in February on behalf of four parents. Three additional families joined the suit after it was filed. Each plaintiff is the parent of at least one child who has attended a Bossier Parish school since at least 2015.
 Last month, the families asked the court to keep their identities anonymous during future legal proceedings, citing fear of harassment and violent threats on social media toward them or their children.

You can read the new policy by clicking HERE.

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Sean Green is managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.