ACLU overturns blatant First Amendment violation in Louisiana

March 16, 2014 • 1:16 pm

In January I recounted the story of how a Buddhist student at Negreet High School in Louisiana was subject not only to religious proselytizing, but blatant (and vicious) religious harassmentl I gave following excerpt from The Raw Story):

Sixth-grade teacher Rita Roark has told her students that the universe was created by God about 6,000 years ago, and taught that both the Big Bang theory and evolution are false, according to the lawsuit. She told her students that “if evolution was real, it would still be happening: Apes would be turning into humans today.”

One test she gave to students asked: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The correct answer was “Lord,” but C.C. wrote in something else. Roark responded by scolding the boy in front of the entire class.

When informed that C.C. was a Buddhist and therefore didn’t believe in God, Roark allegedly responded, “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.”

On another accusation, she allegedly described both Buddhism and Hinduism as “stupid.”

When the outraged parents confronted Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb about the incidents, she allegedly told them “this is the Bible belt” and that they “shouldn’t be offended” to “see God here.” Ebarb advised that C.C. should either change his faith or be transferred to another District school where “there are more Asians.”

It’s unbelievable that this is going on, isn’t it? And yet it’s happening far more often than we know, for we learn about this stuff only when somebody complains. And as you know from the Jessica Ahlquist story, with complaints about religion comes total vilification. When people say that atheists are nasty, think about how many of them would bully a religious person like the faithful bullied Ahlquist. 

The ACLU and its Louisiana Branch filed a lawsuit (there was obviously a complaintant), and, as Heather Weaver reported two days ago on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights,  the high school lost this no-brainer case:

Today, C.C. [“a sixth-grader of Thai dexcent”]and his family won. A federal district court entered an order requiring the school district to refrain from unconstitutionally promoting or denigrating religion. The court’s order also mandates in-service training for school staff regarding their obligations under the First Amendment.

. . . The court’s order, which took the form of a “consent decree” agreed to by the school board, ensures that these unlawful practices will be discontinued in Sabine Parish and brings the case to a close. We applaud the board for doing right by C.C., his siblings, and all district students.

But of course the locals will not go gentle:

Unfortunately, however, not everyone has reacted to the lawsuit with the same measured consideration as the school board. While C.C. and his family have received much support from the community (including from some local congregations) and from across the country, they also have been harassed via crank calls to their house and work. And last month, C.C.’s mother Sharon was accosted while doing yard work: Three people wearing KKK-type white hoods drove by her and shouted, “You fucking nigger Asian-loving bitch.”

A few days ago, someone on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page (Peter’s on a lecture tour of the South) accused me of being an anti-Southern “bigot” simply because I said I like lecturing in the South more than other places, for that’s where the problem of faith is strongest in America, and also because I enjoy the give-and-take of animated discussion after my talks. That discussion is of course more “vigorous” in places like Georgia and South Carolina than Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. But of course no state has a monopoly on the hatred of atheists.

 That critic was truly eager to find some reason to diss me, and was forced to resort to the “bigotry” claim that often fuels the critics of “Islamophibia”. Sadly for my critic, I’m not bigoted against Southerners, but simply opposed to many of the anti-humanist attitudes that are more prevalent in the American South than in other places. Who can deny that, or the treatment that C. C. and his family received would be more probable in the South? It is not bigotry to oppose racism, religious proselytizing, and violation of the American Constitution. Nor is it bigotry to point out that this stuff is more common in some places than others.

h/t: tom

27 thoughts on “ACLU overturns blatant First Amendment violation in Louisiana

  1. anti-Southern “bigot”

    This is why I abhor the fact that many of us are quick to use the term “bigotry” when talking about religious hostility to certain social groups….it just leads to everyone throwing the term about, creating a smoke screen that’s hard to penetrate to see what ideas are being discussed.

      1. I’m saying name-calling is something we teach children not to do, because as adults we realize that it’s counter-productive, although emotionally satisfying. Not that this is the only area in which adults demonstrate hypocrisy…

        1. It is nice to learn that bigotry goes away if we just don’t use that mean word! Who knew it would be so easy?

          I’m going to help eliminate rape now by not referring to people who commit rape with the name-calling term “rapists”.

          1. Why do you nearly always invoke this particular argument style? I see you do this nearly constantly, and only now decided to comment.

            Statement: this is why I don’t like it when people throw the word bigot around unnecessarily.

            inflammatory question Q: are you saying that just because somebody uses the word incorrectly that the word doesn’t have utility at all?

            Statement #2: I’m saying… (clarifies)

            Inflammatory statement #2 implying original poster does not have a point in the first place, and making another tangential argument… rinse, repeat no matter what else is being said.

            It’s really this kind of crap discourse that keeps me away from places where the baboon hordes thrive and fling their poop. Seriously. WTF?

              1. Are you now saying that any argument, properly rephrased, can be reduced to a form of tone trolling? Or just the arguments on the topics you would prefer to be examples of those that can be so safely dismissed?

                No need to bother to answer that… it’s just a parody of what I see you doing. As far as I see it, false charges of bigotry are rampant, especially in the domain of religious sensibilities, and the original poster has made a fine point far from the realm of tone trolling, as has Jerry in the charge of bigotry leveled at him. This back and forth chess game of logical one-upmanship seems better suited to the noisy echo chambers of certain other unmentionable and disagreeable places on the Internet, IMHO. I’ll leave it at that.

              2. We’ll, I see lots of real world bigotry out there, mostly directed at gay people and people of color. And atheists. And Buddhists, too, as long as we’re on the subject. The guys in the hood are, I hope we can agree, bigots. Bigotry is bigotry and not using the word doesn’t seem like an advance to me.

              3. Certainly no disagreement there. Helps to use ANY word appropriately, despite the fact that words and their propriety are shifting sands. We do the best we can. In this sense, I think, pointing out that there’s a ton of god-soaked idiots in positions of power in the South, safely esconced there by a largely religion-soaked populace (more-so than outside the South) is no more a matter of bigotry than pointing out that Islam promotes a particularly backwards and dangerous ideology in a modern pluralistic world — is a matter of racism. Wrong words to use when both are simple statements of fact.

              4. I’m not quite getting your point, Stephen, other than that you are annoyed by my style of argument.

                I didn’t suggest that Jerry was bigoted (the opposite is the case). I did suggest that just because someone falsely calls him a bigot does not mean that the rest of us should cease calling bigots bigoted. IMO the Buddhist student, and the family, at the center of the ACLU case were the victims of religious bigotry.

                Sorry that the style of my argument bothers you so much. It is my attempt to get to the heart of an issue. One of the things that drives me nuts is the idea that real problems will get better if we all just follow “mama’s rule”.. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I’d rather we follow a different rule (papa’s?), that we should speak directly and honestly about things and not try to scrub the language of words that refer to bad stuff.

    1. Sometimes the term, “bigotry” is misused (as it was on Jerry when he was simply pointing out a fact that someone found unsettling and didn’t want to accept) and sometimes it’s an appropriate description (as it is in describing this teacher).

      You’re right in that we should be careful about labels and challenge ourselves to determine if what we are witnessing is really bigotry or not and if the people behaving badly are really bigots or the misguided behaving as bigots. I know that’s a fine line but you can tell such people a part when you meet them. Both types however, are acting in a spiteful way intended to make someone feel bad for who they are as normal human beings. Regardless of the label, this behaviour is intolerable and we should oppose it.

  2. Check out from Judge Foote’s “relief” items including her monetary ones, numbers 18, 19, 20 and 21, involving the school board’s payments by the end of this month of the $40,000.00 in attorneys’ and other litigating costs … … as well as a $buck$ each to the five plaintiffs, that ‘d be $5.00 total, for their pains in having had to suffer and bring forth said suit: “ These nominal payments recognize the injury caused to Plaintiffs by the Board’s custom and practice of promoting religion. ”

    Hmmmm: ” … … by the Board’s custom and practice of promoting religion. ”


    1. The Sabine District was wise to settle for $40,000. It cost the Dover, PA, School District over $1,000,000 to be taught a lesson in the US Constitution. Guess what folks? The courts take the Constitution seriously.

    1. Methinks poor little Rita Roark’s pea-sized brain now has an electronic fence around it that activates any time she represents any school in that parish.

  3. “When people say that atheists are nasty, think about how many of them would bully a religious person like the faithful bullied Ahlquist.”

    Yeah. Too bad There’s nothing in the bible telling you to “love your neighbor”. They should have squeezed it in between “kill the gays” and “the rapture will be here any day now. Really.” Because everyone reads those two passages.

    1. I’m not an American, a lawyer or constitutional expert, so I wonder what the probable outcome of this will be?

      As I understand it, students don’t have complete first amendment rights, especially elementary and high school students.

      Students handing out religious paraphernalia or messages isn’t forbidden by the constitution, as long as the school or faculty isn’t pushing anyone to do it, I would think, anyways.

      I suppose it depends on if the school has a blanket policy about evangelizing on school property or giving of gifts to other students. I could imagine parents going crazy if the local Muslim children spent the school day evangelizing Islam. In fact I think it would start a major riot.

      It’s not unknown for school kids to have discussions about religion on the school ground or classroom. I don’t see how a policy against religious discussion could be enforced.

      Any lawyers out there?

    2. From the article:

      “Public school teachers in this day and age can’t play dumb anymore,” Becker said. “They know the law prevents religious discrimination, yet they can’t help but act on their bigoted instincts. That has to stop.”

      Someone’s gotta buy me a new irony meter.

      1. The tu quoque attack, which is either a spontaneous mass reaction or a part of a coordinated strategy, is popping up from all points of the compass in the unreality community. I’ve noticed this tactic increasing in frequency over the past year or so.

        It is common to many if not all of the extremist factions of ideological dogmatism: theocrat-Dominionists, Creationists, climate change deniers, evolution deniers, anti-Enlightenment roll back history know-nothings.

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