Following a dispute with the American Civil Liberties Union, the words “In God We Trust” were returned to a sign at Ridgewood Middle School in West Shreveport, Louisiana.
A complaint filed by a citizen with the ACLU about another school in the same district sparked the controversy. The principal of Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle School, Albert Hardison, had allegedly used prayer in school communications, including on the school’s website and in a newsletter, a violation of the separation of church and state principal outlined in the Constitution.
The ACLU stated in an open letter to the superintendent, “The United States Constitution requires public schools to ensure that state-supported activity is not used for religious indoctrination.” It continued, “There is no question that the Principal (Hardison) has violated these legal mandates by repeatedly invoking God, prayer and Christianity throughout official school publications.”
The letter urged for the removal of religious references from the website, citing the unconstitutionality and prompting an investigation by the school’s attorneys.
The dispute prompted the Ridgewood Middle School to remove “In God We Trust” from its marquee, though courts have ruled previously that the national motto is a "reference to our religious heritage" and is not unconstitutional.
ACLU Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman told Yahoo News, “We contacted the school board because the (Walnut Hill) principal was praying in school, clearly a violation of the Constitution.” But, in regards to the sign being removed, Esman said, “I don’t know how that came about.”
Students at Ridgewood Middle School exercised their First Amendment rights by holding a rally at lunchtime in support of the phrase formerly on the marquee. They handed out 500 T-shirts featuring the motto, reported KSLA.
The rally, organized by local pastor Joey Ketchum, enlisted the help of roughly 40 members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the school. Ketchum said, “We are taking a stand for the Lord.”
Following a study of the issue by the school's attorneys, the superintendent authorized the phrase for marquee, leaving it to Ridgewood Middle School Principal Scott Aymond to have it put back, which he did immediately.
Standing by the sign with the reinstated motto, Ketchum told reporters, “They wanted to take a stand and they did and we’re so thrilled to death that their voice was heard loud and clear.”