Perhaps you've never heard of Sabine Parish, Louisiana, up on the Texas border. It's most famous as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus Nash, who created the White League, a Christian white men's club like the KKK, except its members weren't anonymous. Old habits apparently die hard.
The ACLU is suing the parish school superintendent, as well as a principal and teacher at Negreet High School, alleging that they essentially turned the K-through-12 school into a Christian theocracy that tormented a Thai-born Buddhist child at every opportunity.
"By the end of the first week of school, he was having serious stomach issues and anxiety," Scott Lane writes of "C.C.," his 6th-grader stepson. "In the mornings, my wife would pull over on the side of the road as they approached school so he could throw up." Shortly after, his other children explained why C.C. was so apprehensive:
On a science test, their teacher had included a fill-in-the-blank question: "ISN'T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" When my stepson didn't know the answer ("Lord"), she belittled him in front of the entire class. When he wrote in "Lord Buddha" on another exam, she marked it wrong. As she was returning that exam to students, one student proclaimed aloud that "people are stupid if they think God is not real." In response, my stepson's teacher agreed, telling the class, "Yes! That is right! I had a student miss that on his test." The entire class broke out in laughter at my stepson.
The same teacher also told our children that the Bible is "100 percent true," that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, and that evolution is "impossible" and a "stupid theory made up by stupid people who don't want to believe in God." She's also told the class that Buddhism is "stupid."
Matters did not improve when Lane and his wife, Sharon, went to the school to meet Sara Ebarb, the superintendent. First, they had to pass through a gauntlet of Christian paraphernalia at the public school just to meet her, according to their lawsuit:
Paintings of Jesus Christ, 2 Bible verses, and Christian devotional phrases adorn the walls of many classrooms and hallways, including the main hallway leading out to the bus pick-up area. A lighted, electronic marquee placed just outside the building scrolls Bible verses every day. And staff members routinely lead students in Christian prayer.
(The main hallway Jesus picture can be seen at the bottom of this post, along with the school's online mission statement.)
Once they met Ebarb, things went downhill:
[S]he took no corrective action. On the contrary, she told the Lanes that "[t]his is the Bible Belt" and that they would simply have to accept that teachers would proselytize students. She also asked whether C.C. had to be raised as a Buddhist and whether he could "change" his faith, and she suggested that C.C. transfer to another district school – more than 25 miles away where, in her words, "there are more Asians."
After the meeting, Ebarb had the principal read a letter to the entire school over the public address system expressing support for teachers who wished to proselytize in their classrooms.
C.C.'s science teacher, Rita Roark, seemed to take that advice to heart. She just skipped over the entire chapter in the class' textbook on evolution, saying that "if evolution was real, it would still be happening: Apes would be turning into humans today." She also teaches social studies and "presents Biblical accounts of persons, places, and events as fact," the suit alleges:
For example, on a handout asking, "What mountain did Moses supposedly get the Ten Commandments from," Roark crossed out the word "supposedly." She also has told students that the Bible is "100% true" and that "scientists are slowly finding out that everything in the Bible is accurate."
When teaching her social studies class about Buddhism, Roark called the faith and its founder "stupid" because "no one can stay alive that long without eating."
The suit details a host of other allegations, including the school faculty's many regular mandatory prayer sessions, the numerous Bible verses posted in the hallways, and one teacher's distribution of revival literature that includes a New Testament and "cartoons that denounce evolution and trumpet the evils of birth control, premarital sex, rock music, alcohol, pornography, homosexuality, sorcery, and witchcraft."
It sounds shocking, unless you're from a place like Sabine Parish—the place where Nash grew up before forming the White League to defend "our hereditary civilization and Christianity menaced by a stupid Africanization." There's that word again: "stupid."
The problem isn't Christianity and it isn't the South, strictly speaking. The problem occurs wherever religion and tradition and insularity are valued above all other things. That happens in quite a few places in the South, but elsewhere, as well.
"We don't begrudge others their right to their Christian faith," Lane writes, but "[f]orcing your beliefs on another is not freedom; it is oppression."
Ebarb hasn't responded to media queries, but her school board did put out a press release after the suit was filed last week. "The Sabine Parish School Board has only recently been made aware of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU," it read:
A lawsuit only represents one side's allegations, and the board is disappointed that the ACLU chose to file suit without even contacting it regarding the facts.
The school system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously.
Presumably, the author meant that the school system would defend itself against the lawsuit. If only the Negreet High School English department taught English instead of prayer.
[Photo credits: George Muresan/Shutterstock; ACLU]