A public school in Louisiana would violate the U.S. Constitution if it allows a school-sponsored field trip to a Christian event called “Just for Jesus,” according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
At its next meeting on Jan. 27, the Ouachita Parish School Board will discuss whether the district should allow students to take this field trip and provide transportation to the event.
“Just for Jesus” is described by local media as a “prayer and praise crusade for students in grades 4-12” and is clearly proselytizing in nature. In the past, the event featured Christian music, skits dramatizing the effect of being saved and sermons from local preachers.
In a letter sent to the school’s superintendent and board, Americans United advised the school district not to approve the field trip.
“A public school has no business transporting students to an evangelistic event,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Ouachita school officials should stick to offering education in secular subjects and stop meddling in the religious lives of students.”
AU’s letter makes it clear that if a religious student club is behind this field trip, the board can provide transportation and give students the day off only if it allows all other student clubs, on an equal basis, transportation and days off to attend their events.
“Ouachita Parish School District cannot finance, sponsor or otherwise support a field trip to a clearly religious event such as Just for Jesus,” reads the AU letter.
As far as AU is aware, the “Just for Jesus” field trip is not a school club-sponsored trip.
Americans United notes that problems over religion in school have frequently occurred in Ouachita Parish. In 2000, Americans United and the Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district on behalf of families who disagreed with the school’s policy of broadcasting Christian prayers over the intercom.
In 2006, the school board approved a policy watering down the teaching of evolution; last year, school officials engineered votes on graduation prayers, saying the majority should rule.
“It’s time for the Ouachita schools to lay off the preaching and get back to teaching,” Lynn said.
Americans United’s letter was drafted by Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.
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