«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 ...»
Concerned about the increasingly hostile environment that Defendants were creating for C.C., confronted with an unreceptive and uncaring Superintendent, and hoping to save C.C. from additional psychological harm, the Lanes decided to remove C.C. from Negreet and enroll him at Many Junior High School. Id. 42. At great personal expense in terms of both cost and time, they now drive him daily twenty-five miles each way to and from school. Id.
Despite Plaintiffs’ objections, Roark continues to promote her religious beliefs to her students, including C.C.’s sister, during science class and at other times. Id. 43. In recent months, she has repeatedly instructed students that evolution is not valid as a scientific theory and that God made the world 6,000 years ago. Id. 44. She demands that students write either a Bible verse or “Isn’t it amazing what the Lord has made” at the bottom of exams if they want extra credit. Id. 45. Roark writes “Yes!” next to the verse or religious affirmation and awards students five additional points when they comply with this mandate. Id.
In addition, in social studies class, Roark presents Biblical accounts of persons, places, and events as fact. Id. 46. For example, on a handout asking, “What mountain did Moses supposedly get the Ten Commandments from,” Roark crossed out the word “supposedly.” Id.
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.” Id.
Further, Roark continues to ridicule non-Christians for their beliefs. Last month, during a social studies lesson about Hinduism and Buddhism, Roark told the class that Buddhism “is stupid” and, speaking about the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha, she proclaimed that “no one can stay alive that long without food and water.” Id. 47.
II. DEFENDANTS’ SPONSORSHIP OF PRAYER DURING SCHOOLEVENTS.
Roark’s conduct is part of a pervasive custom, policy, and practice of official promotion and inculcation of religion (in particular, Christianity) by District officials who, until this school year, posted a belief statement on the District’s website declaring as the District’s top principle, “We believe that God exists.” Verif. Compl. 48-49, Ex. C. As part of this custom, policy, and practice, school officials routinely incorporate Christian prayer into classes and school functions.
For example, C.C.’s fifth grade math teacher, Stacy Bray, asked her students to bow their heads and pray aloud before lunch every day. Id. 57. Bray selected a different student each time to lead the class in prayer and participated in the prayers herself. Id. Another teacher, Angela Knight, leads her class in daily prayer before lunch. Id.
Nearly all student assemblies begin with prayer. Id. 58. For example, this past spring, Negreet held a mandatory Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) assembly at which Principal Wright led the entire faculty and student body in prayer. Id. In fact, Wright frequently leads the faculty and student body in prayer at many assemblies, including the school’s annual Class Ring Ceremony, which is held in the springtime. Id., Ex. G. And every Veterans Day, including the most recent, school officials invite a local Christian preacher to hold a group prayer at a mandatory faculty/student assembly honoring the Nation’s veterans. Id. 60, Ex. H. The assembly also features a video presentation accompanied by contemporary Christian-themed music. Id. Like the D.A.R.E. event, student attendance at the Class Ring Ceremony and Veterans Day assemblies is compulsory. Id. 58-60.
In addition, mandatory school-day pep rallies held before LEAP standardized testing also feature an official prayer led by a student over the public-address system. Id. 59. And once a year, Negreet administrators and faculty organize a “See You at the Pole” event, at which students and faculty gather at the school’s flagpole before class to pray. Id. 61. All students are required to attend. Id.
Meanwhile, almost every athletic event at Negreet opens with an official prayer. The prayers are often led by faculty, administration, or local religious leaders. Id. 62. And last month, on the day Negreet dismissed students for winter break, Principal Wright prayed over the public-address system. Id. 63.
III. DEFENDANTS’ DISPLAY OF RELIGIOUS ICONOGRAPHY AND
MESSAGES AND DISTRIBUTION OF RELGIOUS LITERATURE.
Defendants promote their religious beliefs in other ways as well. A large portrait of Jesus Christ adorns the main hallway, and other depictions of Christ have been displayed in many hallways and classrooms at Negreet. Id. 50, Ex. D. Posters bearing Bible verses hang throughout Negreet’s halls, and a large, outdoor, variable-message electronic marquee on Negreet premises also regularly displays Bible verses. Id. 51, Ex. E.
In the main foyer of the school, one display informs students that “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.” It includes several posters urging students to “Pray,” “Worship,” and Believe,” while a poster displayed near the waiting area of the main office announces that “[i]t’s okay to pray.” Id. 53-54.
Faculty members also distribute religious literature to students: Recently, one teacher gave M.L. and his classmates copies of a book from the “Truth For Youth” program. Published by Revival Fires International ministry of West Monroe, Louisiana, “Truth for Youth” Bibles consist of the entire New Testament and with cartoon tracts that denounce evolution, spread scientifically inaccurate information about birth control and sex, and warn students about the evils of rock music, drunkenness, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, sorcery, witchcraft, and other subjects. Id.
IV. OFFICIAL PROMOTION OF RELIGION AT MANY JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL.
At Many Junior High School, which C.C. currently attends, school officials also incorporate official prayer into school events. For example, most football games begin with an official student-led prayer over the public-address system. Id. 65, Ex. I. Prior to each prayer, an announcer asks the entire audience to stand and bow their heads. Id. School-day assemblies, including the Veterans Day celebration, also include official prayer. Id. 66.
Moreover, this past Christmas, Many High School held, on school premises, a “living nativity” scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Id. 67. And before the holiday, C.C.’s teacher read his class a story about the birth of Christ. The story stated that candy canes are shaped like a “J” to symbolize Jesus. Id. 68.
V. PLAINTIFFS’ OBJECTIONS TO DEFENDANTS’ UNLAWFULCONDUCT.
Both C.C. and Sharon Lane deeply value their Buddhist religious beliefs. Verif. Compl.
11. They object to and are offended by Defendants’ conduct because it denigrates their faith and promotes religious beliefs to which they do not subscribe. Id. This conduct caused C.C. to become physically ill. Id. 33, 36. He feels pressured to take part in religious practices and feels like an outcast in the District. Id. 11-12.
C.C.’s brothers, Plaintiffs S.L. and M.L, remain enrolled at Negreet High School, where they are subject to Defendants’ repeated efforts to inculcate and promote Christianity. Id. 16.
Although M.L. attends church, he believes that his faith is a personal matter. Id. He believes that he should be able to decide, with the guidance of his parents and religious leaders, which beliefs he will follow and when, as well as how to express those beliefs, without pressure from his teachers and school officials. Id. S.L. is a non-believer who does not subscribe to the religious beliefs promoted by school officials. Id.
Both S.L. and M.L. feel very uncomfortable and coerced, both directly and indirectly, by school officials’ repeated efforts to impose their religious beliefs on students in the form of official prayer, displays of religious iconography, and other religious activities. Id. 17. They are also upset and offended by school officials’ disparagement of their brother, C.C., and his faith. S.L. and M.L. feel like outsiders in their school because of Defendants’ conduct. Id.
Plaintiffs Scott and Sharon Lane sue on behalf of their minor children and on their own behalf. Id. 10, 18. They object to and are offended by Defendants’ conduct not only because it promotes religious beliefs to which neither parent subscribes, but also because Defendants’ conduct impedes their right to control their children’s religious education and upbringing free from governmental intrusion or interference. Id. 11, 18. And, as parents, the Lanes have had to take on additional financial and administrative burdens in order to transport C.C. each day more than 25 miles to a different school than his siblings. Id. 15.
Plaintiffs feel marginalized and like outsiders at Negreet and within the School District because of Defendants’ conduct, and they fear that they will continue to suffer these harms through this school year and beyond. Thus, Plaintiffs filed suit on January 22, 2014, seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the Defendants’ custom, policy, and practice of promoting and inculcating Christianity is unconstitutional; (2) a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants from continuing their unlawful practices and from retaliating against Plaintiffs for voicing their objections and filing this action; (3) nominal and compensatory damages; and (4) any other relief deemed by this Court to be necessary and appropriate.
To obtain a preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs must show that (1) there is a substantial likelihood that they will succeed on the merits; (2) there is a substantial threat that they will suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not issued; (3) the threatened injury would outweigh the potential harm to the Defendants; and (4) the preliminary injunction will not disserve the public interest. See Speaks v. Kruse, 445 F.3d 396, 399-400 (5th Cir. 2006); Ingebretsen v.
Jackson Pub. Sch. Dist., 88 F.3d 274, 278 (5th Cir. 1996) (upholding preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Mississippi School Prayer Statute); Doe v. Duncanville Indep. Sch. Dist.
(“Duncanville I”), 994 F.2d 160, 163 (5th Cir. 1993) (upholding preliminary injunction prohibiting public school “from permitting employees... to lead, encourage, promote, or participate in prayer with or among students during curricular or extracurricular activities, including before, during or after school related sporting events”). As discussed below, Plaintiffs here meet all for requirements of this standard.
I. PLAINTIFFS ARE LIKELY TO SUCCEED ON THE MERITS OF
THEIR ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE CLAIM.
There are “heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools.” Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S.
577, 592 (1992). Accordingly, the U.S. Supreme Court “has been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause” in the public-school context, Edwards v Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 583 (1987), where “[s]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible.” Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 309 (2000). By incorporating official prayer and proselytizing into public-school classes and events, displaying religious iconography and Bible verses throughout school facilities, distributing religious literature to students, and otherwise promoting religion, Defendants have plainly violated this constitutional prohibition. See Duncanville I, 994 F.2d at 165 (pointing to a “long line of cases carving out of the Establishment Clause what essentially amounts to a per se rule prohibiting public-school...
initiated religious expression or indoctrination”). Under any Establishment Clause test, Defendants’ egregious conduct clearly warrants a preliminary injunction.
A. Defendants’ Sponsorship of Prayer, Proselytizing, and Other Religious Messages is Unconstitutionally Coercive.
“[A]t a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.” Lee, 505 U.S. at 587. Thus, “school-sponsored activity contravenes the First Amendment when (1) the government directs (2) a formal religious exercise (3) in such a way as to oblige the participation of objectors.” Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Bd. of Educ., 185 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Defendants have repeatedly sponsored, and continue to sponsor, formal religious exercises in the form of official prayer. At Negreet, teachers incorporate prayer into classes; the principal delivers prayer to students via the school-wide public-address system; compulsory school-day assemblies feature one or more official prayers; and other school events, such as athletic games, also include prayer. Supra p. 6-8. School officials even require students to attend “See You at the Pole,” an event organized with the sole purpose of promoting prayer and worship. Id. p. 8. Many Junior High School likewise imposes official prayer on students during school activities. Id. p. 9.