«SCOTT LANE, on his own behalf and on NUMBER: behalf of his minor children, S.L. and M.L.; AND SHARON LANE, on her own behalf JUDGE: and on behalf of ...»
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
SCOTT LANE, on his own behalf and on
behalf of his minor children, S.L. and M.L.;
AND SHARON LANE, on her own behalf
and on behalf of her minor child, C.C., Plaintiffs,
– Versus –
SABINE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD,SARA EBARB, in her official capacity as Superintendent of the Sabine Parish School District; GENE WRIGHT, in his official capacity as Principal of Negreet High School;
and RITA ROARK, in her official capacity as a teacher at Negreet High School, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF PRELIMINARY INJUNCTIONTable of Contents Introduction
I. DEFENDANT ROARK’S PROMOTION OF CHRISTIANITYAND RELIGIOUS HARASSMENT OF PLAINTIFF C.C.
A. Roark Teaches Creationism in Science Class.
B. Roark Tests Religious Devotion on Exams and Openly Mocked C.C. When Made Aware of His Buddhist Beliefs.
C. Defendant Ebarb Refuses to Stop Roark’s Unlawful Activities and Suggests That C.C. Should “Change” His Faith or Transfer to a School With “More Asians.”
D. C.C. is Forced to Move to Another School.
E. Roark Continues to Promote Christian Beliefs.
II. DEFENDANTS’ SPONSORSHIP OF PRAYERDURING SCHOOL EVENTS.
III. DEFENDANTS’ DISPLAY OF RELIGIOUS ICONOGRAPHY
AND MESSAGES AND DISTRIBUTION OF RELGIOUS LITERATURE.
IV. OFFICIAL PROMOTION OF RELIGION AT MANY JUNIORHIGH SCHOOL.
V. PLAINTIFFS’ OBJECTIONS TO DEFENDANTS’ UNLAWFUL CONDUCT.
Abington Sch. Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)
Ahlquist v. City of Cranston ex rel. Strom, 840 F.Supp.2d 507 (D.R.I. 2012)
Awad v. Ziriax, 670 F.3d 1111 (10th Cir. 2012)
Collins v. Chandler Unified Sch. Dist., 644 F.2d 759 (9th Cir. 1981)
Doe v. Duncanville Indep. Sch. Dist. (“Duncanville I”), 994 F.2d 160 (5th Cir. 1993)
Doe v. Duncanville Indep. Sch. Dist. (“Duncanville II”), 70 F.3d 402 (5th Cir. 1995)
Doe v. Harlan Cnty. Sch. Dist., 96 F. Supp. 2d 667 (E.D. Ky. 2000)
Doe v. Porter, 370 F.3d 558 (6th Cir. 2004)
Doe v. Sch. Bd. of Ouachita Parish, 274 F.3d 289 (5th Cir. 2001)
Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987)
Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Bd. of Educ., 185 F. 3d 337 (5th Cir. 1999)
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962)
Grossman v. S. Shore Pub. Sch. Dist., 507 F.3d 1097 (7th Cir. 2007)
Hall v. Bd. of Sch. Com’rs, 656 F.2d 999 (5th Cir. 1981)
Herdahl v. Pontotoc Cnty. Sch. Dist., 933 F. Supp. 582 (N.D. Miss. 1996)
Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252 (11th Cir. 2004)
Ingebretsen v. Jackson Pub. Sch. Dist., 88 F.3d 274 (5th Cir. 1996)
Jager v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist., 862 F.2d 824 (11th Cir. 1989)
Karen B. v. Treen, 653 F.2d 897 (5th Cir. 1981), aff’d 455 U.S. 1913 (1981)
Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992)
Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971)
McCreary County v. ACLU of Ky., 545 U.S. 844 (2005)
N.C. Civil Liberties Union Found. v. Constangy, 947 F.2d 1145 (4th Cir. 1991)
Roberts v. Madigan, 921 F.2d 1047 (10th Cir. 1990)
Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000)
S.D. v. St. Johns Cnty. Sch. Dist., 632 F. Supp. 2d 1085 (M.D. Fla. 2009)
Speaks v. Kruse, 445 F.3d 396 (5th Cir. 2006)
Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980)
Trunk v. City of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1099 (9th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 2535 (2012)
Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Pub. Sch., 33 F.3d 679 (6th Cir. 1994)
Williams v. Vidmar, 367 F. Supp. 2d 1265 (N.D. Cal. 2005)
All students, regardless of faith, should feel safe and welcome in our public schools. But that is not the case in the Sabine Parish School District in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, where school officials actively inculcate Christianity and discriminate against minority-faith students. At Negreet High School (“NHS” or “Negreet”), for example, Defendant Rita Roark regularly asks her sixth-grade students for professions of Christian faith in science class and teaches the Bible as scientific fact, claiming that the Big Bang never happened and that evolution is a “stupid” theory that “stupid people made up because they don’t want to believe in God.” Paintings of Jesus Christ, Bible verses, and devotional affirmations adorn the walls of classrooms and hallways. A lighted electronic marquee placed just outside the building scrolls Bible verses every day. And staff members routinely lead students in Christian prayer. The District’s administration – all the way up to the Superintendent of Schools – endorses and encourages all of it.
So engrained is official promotion of religion at Negreet that when Plaintiff C.C.,1 a Buddhist of Thai descent, enrolled in the sixth grade this past August, he quickly became the target of proselytizing and harassment by faculty and administration. C.C.’s teacher, Ms. Roark, even ridiculed him in class for his non-Christian beliefs and has told her students that Buddhism is “stupid.” After learning of Negreet’s unlawful practices and Roark’s harassment of their son, C.C.’s parents rose to his defense, taking their concerns to Defendant Sara Ebarb, the Sabine Parish Superintendent of Schools. But she 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 Per L.R. 5.7.12(b), Minor Plaintiffs are identified only by their initials.
would proselytize students. She also questioned whether C.C. “has to be raised Buddhist” and whether he could “change” his faith. Finally, Ebarb advised Plaintiffs that C.C. should transfer to another District school that had “more Asians.” Defendants’ conduct violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Left with no choice but to seek judicial relief, Plaintiffs now move for a preliminary injunction prohibiting District officials from continuing to engage in their longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian beliefs;
denigrating the Buddhist faith of Plaintiffs C.C and Sharon Lane; and retaliating against Plaintiffs or their family members for objecting to these unlawful practices. For the reasons set forth below, the Court should grant Plaintiffs’ motion.
Defendants have a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christian beliefs by sponsoring and encouraging prayer, proselytizing students, and promoting other religious beliefs and messages via the display of religious iconography and Bible verses, as well as the distribution of religious literature. Verif. Compl. 26. Plaintiffs Scott and Sharon Lane are married and have children who attend school in the Sabine Parish School District. Id. 9. Scott Lane, as the parent of minor Plaintiffs S.L. and M.L., and Sharon Lane, as the parent of minor Plaintiff C.C., brought this challenge on behalf of themselves and on behalf of their children to put an end to Defendants’ unlawful promotion of religion, as well as Defendants’ denigration of C.C’s and Sharon’s Buddhist faith.
I. DEFENDANT ROARK’S PROMOTION OF CHRISTIANITY
AND RELIGIOUS HARASSMENT OF PLAINTIFF C.C.
In August of 2013, C.C., a Buddhist of Thai descent, enrolled in the sixth grade at Negreet High School, which serves students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Verif.
Compl. 10-11. Almost immediately, C.C.’s faith made him the target of religious proselytization and harassment by his then-science and social studies teacher, Defendant Rita Roark. Id. 12.
Roark regularly teaches Christian beliefs to her students, substituting Biblical accounts of creation and history for accepted scientific and historical fact. Verif. Compl. 27. She has, for example, presented C.C. and the rest the science class with her beliefs about “Young Earth” creationism, informing students that the Big Bang never happened and that the Universe was created by God approximately 6,000 years ago. Id. 28. She also teaches her students that evolution does not exist and has stated that, “if evolution were real, it would still be happening.
Apes would be turning into humans today.” Id. 29. Indeed, when the time came to teach evolution in science class, Roark declined, skipping the chapter in the textbook and dismissing evolution as “impossible” and a “stupid” theory that “stupid people made up because they don’t want to believe in God.” Id.
Roark also routinely requires students to provide written professions of faith on science exams and other tests and assignments. Verif. Compl. 30. The required religious professions have typically consisted of fill-in-the-blank Bible verses or religious affirmations as test questions. Id. On one occasion, the final question on an exam presented students with the following fill-in-the-blank question: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Id. 31, Ex. A.
Having been raised a Buddhist, C.C. did not know the expected answer and left the question blank. Id. 32. Roark marked it incorrect, wrote “LORD” in the blank in red ink, and returned the test to C.C. Id., Ex. A. She also scolded C.C., with the entire class listening, for not writing in the correct answer. Id. C.C.’s sister, who is also in Roark’s class, jumped to her brother’s defense, explaining that C.C. is a Buddhist and does not believe in God. Id. Roark returned to her desk, at which point a student remarked that “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.” Roark looked up and shook her head “yes” in affirmation of the student’s remark. Id.
C.C. felt sick and humiliated after the incident. Id. 33. He took the test home to his mother, who instructed him that he need not answer such inappropriate questions. Id. 34.
However, when C.C. expressed concern that he would lose points on his tests, Lane told her son he could write “Buddha” if Roark posed the question again. Id.
Soon enough, C.C. was given another science test with the very same fill-in-the-blank question. In the blank, he wrote “Lord Boda [sic].” Id. 35, Ex. B. Roark marked the answer incorrect by placing a large, red question mark near it. Id. As Roark was returning the tests to students, one student declared again, for the whole class to hear, that “people are stupid if they think God is not real.” Id. Roark agreed, responding, “Yes! That is right! I had a student miss that on his test.” Id. Most of the students, who were present when Roark had previously ridiculed C.C. for failing to write “Lord” as the correct answer, broke out in laughter. Id.
As a result of Roark’s conduct, C.C. became anxious and nauseated every morning before school. Id. 36. When the Lanes asked why he was sick, he and his sister told them in more detail what Roark had been doing science class. Id.
Outraged and deeply concerned about Roark’s treatment of C.C., the Lanes contacted Superintendent Ebarb and explained what had happened. Verif. Compl. 37. Although Ebarb indicated that she would look into the matter, she also told them that “this is the Bible Belt,” and recommended that they simply tolerate Roark’s proselytization and harassment. Id. Unsatisfied, the Lanes met with Ebarb to follow up. They discussed Roark’s treatment of C.C., as well as the general advancement of Christianity by faculty and administrators at Negreet. Id. 38. During the meeting, Ebarb proved unreceptive to Plaintiffs’ concerns and ultimately repeated her earlier admonition that they “were in the Bible Belt” and that they should simply accept the pervasiveness of official Christianity in Sabine Parish public schools. Id.
Ebarb also defended Roark specifically, declaring that “[t]eachers have religious freedom,” adding that, “if they were in a different country,” Plaintiffs would see “that country’s religion everywhere,” and thus “shouldn’t be offended” to “see God here.” Id. 39. Purporting to illustrate her point further, she noted that because she did not find it offensive that “the lady who cuts [her] toenails has a statue of Buddha,” the Lanes and their children should not be bothered by Roark’s in-class proselytization. Id. Ebarb then asked whether C.C. “has to be raised Buddhist” and whether he could “change” his faith. Id. Plaintiffs were shocked and expressed their dismay at Ebarb’s suggestion. Id.
In the end, the only recourse Ebarb offered Plaintiffs was to advise them that C.C. could transfer to Many Junior High School, a school that was twenty-five miles away, where, in her words, “there are more Asians.” Id. 40. She did not, however, offer to provide school bus transportation or, alternatively, funds to cover the Lanes’ private expense of transporting C.C. to the new school. Id.
The day following her meeting with the Lanes, Ebarb wrote a letter to Principal Wright stating that she approved of Wright’s practices in general and that she approved of the fact that the teachers at Negreet acted consistent with their religious beliefs. Id. 41. Wright read the letter to the whole school over the public-address system. Id.