Conservative Group Blasts ACLU for Call to Fine, Jail School Officials

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - A conservative group is blasting the ACLU for recommending that school officials in New Orleans be "fined or jailed" for failing to stop prayer before a high school baseball game in March.

The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion for criminal contempt against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board for defying a court order banning official prayer at athletic events. According to the ACLU, this was the second contempt motion filed against the school board within two weeks for violating court orders.

"This assault on religious freedom is yet another example of the ACLU's crusade to eradicate any public recognition of America's spiritual heritage. I applaud the students, parents, and school board for standing firm in the face of the ACLU's intimidation and threats," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

The incident in question took place on March 24 when an adult identified as Shane Tycer used the public address system to lead a prayer before the start of a baseball game between Loranger High School and Sumner High School, according to the ACLU.

The school board voluntarily signed a court judgment on Aug. 27, 2004 banning official prayer, the Louisiana ACLU said. The civil liberties group filed three lawsuits on behalf of "offended parents with children in the Tangipahoa Parish school district" over a ten-year period.

The first was a challenge to the "promotion of the biblical faith-based story of creation as opposed to the scientific theory of evolution." The second was the "presence of a 'pizza preacher' proselytizing via a free lunch." And the third was "school-sponsored prayer."

"The school board and its superintendent cannot get away with a shell game that mocks the judiciary and its role of interpreting and upholding the rule of law," said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU.

"It is time to put out the welcome mat to believers and non-believers alike at all public school functions across the state and the nation. Children and parents whose beliefs are different from the majority must not be made to feel like outsiders in their own schools," said Cook.

"Public schools should be kept inclusive and secular in keeping with our Founders' ideas for religious liberty for all," said Cook. "Because public schools are part of the government, official school-organized or school-sponsored devotional exercises are inconsistent with the principle of religious freedom.

"How, when, where and to whom children should pray is a decision that should be made by families in the home and chosen places of worship, not forced or coerced by government officials," he added.

According to Perkins, the Louisiana ACLU asked Judge Ginger Berrigan to hold the school board in contempt last month for allowing an elementary school student to recite the Lord's Prayer before its meeting. The ruling was denounced by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, but it is being appealed.

"While our high school campuses have become virtual battle grounds, the ACLU has fixed its sights not on the perpetrators of violence but on those who would allow prayer," said Perkins.

"When the latest school shooting took place yesterday in Texas the students and dazed administrators didn't turn to the ACLU or the courts to be consoled but to local ministers who were summoned to the school to pray and counsel with the students," added Perkins.

"If the ACLU and the courts would stop attacking students who are praying, we might very well have fewer violent criminals preying upon their classmates," he concluded.

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