MORGAN CITY – In response to a lawsuit threatened by The American Humanist Association, the St. Mary Parish School Board has admitted that a public prayer held at a recent Veteran’s Day rally at Morgan City High School was inconsistent with school district policy.
The American Humanist Association (AHA), a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining the separation of church and state, issued a letter of warning authored by attorney Monica Miller. In the letter Miller alerted the school district of its concerns of a reported constitutional violation at Morgan City on Nov. 18 in which they claim a student from the school district contacted the group after being forced to participate in a Christian prayer that opened an hour-long Veteran's Day assembly.
“Attendance at the assembly was required and the students were not given prior notice that a prayer would be included as part of the assembly. The student in question felt compelled to stay at the assembly despite her sincere objection to school-sponsored prayers, because she feared the school would punish her if she attempted to leave,” Miller’s letter states.
Miller notes that teachers have been reported to have punished students for exercising their constitutional rights to sit out of the Pledge of Allegiance in the past and the student who raised the concern feared similar reprisals.
AHA claims that the actions at the school sponsored function conflict with First Amendment requirements that government sanctioned functions remain secular. In her letter Miller threatened legal action should the school district continue to hold public prayers in conjunction with school activities.
“The purpose of this letter is to advise you that this practice of including prayer in school-sponsored events must immediately cease, and that our organization will pursue the matter through litigation in federal court if it does not. We specifically demand assurances from the school district that prayer will no longer be included in such school-sponsored events in the future,” Miller’s letter stated.
In a response letter issued in Nov. 19 to the AHA, Eric M. Duplantis, an assistant district attorney for St. Mary Parish, assured the organization that school district would comply with AHA's demands.
“The introductory prayer, led by an invitee (adult), during the opening of Veteran's Day program was not consistent with the District's policy,” Duplantis wrote.
Duplantis said the superintendent and school principal have been made aware of the breach of policy and the necessity of following proper protocol in the future.
“Please be assured that we recognize the important responsibility of protecting the Constitutional rights of all of our students,” he said.