Students, community take a stand for religious freedom

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Bossier students and community members worshiped together and rallied for student rights during the Freedom Student Summit, held at Bossier Parish Community College. (Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune)

It was a monumental night for Bossier’s fight for religious freedom in public schools.

The Freedom Student Summit, held Sunday at Bossier Parish Community College, brought together hundreds — including students, community members, school officials, church leaders, and politicians — under one roof, standing up for student rights to live out their faith no matter the school or city. 

Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-Dist. 4) called it a great exercise in democracy.

“It’s never a bad time to remind people of their constitutional rights and to remind students that the law is on their side,” he said. “They ought to express their religion and stand for their faith. They should be proud of it and encourage others to do it.”

The summit follows a lawsuit involving seven families against Bossier Schools. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit, dated Feb. 7,  in U.S. District Court, 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. It also alleges that school officials openly proselytize students in Christianity.

Johnson and State Attorney General Jeff Landry published “Louisiana Student Rights Review: Answers to Common Questions about Religious Freedom in Schools” earlier this year. The document clarifies how students can and can not express their religious beliefs at school.

Together, they answered questions about what students can and can’t do in school when it comes to expressing their religion. They also encouraged the community to stand strong and keep fighting.

“The time to stand is now,” Landry said.

Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-Dist. 4) (right) and Attorney General Jeff Landry (left) answer questions from the audience about student rights.

There was a moment in Johnson’s presentation where he asked, what’s left of our freedom? In spite of the many lawsuits brought against Bossier Schools, Johnson said students’ religious freedoms are still completely intact.

“All student led, student initiated religious expression and religious speech is fully protected by the law,” he said. “The Bossier Parish School Board is doing everything they can to preserve those rights and they should be applauded for it.”

Johnson did ask the school board members present Sunday night to stand and be recognized. The board members were greeted with thunderous applause from the audience.

Bossier Schools has not addressed the Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s lawsuit since releasing a formal statement in late February, stating they would update policies to ensure “full legal compliance across the school district” and schedule mandatory training for “all administrators, teachers and coaches on the policies and underlying laws.”

“The Bossier Parish School Board and its administration are committed to maintaining exceptional schools, respecting the rights and beliefs of every student and family in our community, and carefully following all applicable federal and state laws,” a portion of their formal statement reads.

Johnson hopes students will feel empowered and encouraged by Sunday night’s event.

“We have strong warriors at the helm of this fight in Bossier,” he said.

The website www.istandwithbossier.com was developed to equip, empower and encourage public school students about rights to live out their faith. It’s a call to prayer, urging people from across the community to join in prayer for students and the school system.

“Students attending our public schools have powerful rights to live out their faith….We draw a line, and that lines starts with prayer,” the site says. “Religious Liberty is real and valuable for all of us. Let’s stand with all of our students and their rights to live out their faith no matter the school, no matter the city.”