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|'Just for Jesus' field trip draws opposition from parents, ACLU attorney|
Ouachita Parish Schools attorney Elmer Noah must determine if students can legally attend an upcoming "Just for Jesus" rally as part of a school field trip, the parish school board decided.
The school board heard comments at its regular meeting from the rally's founder, Sulphur pastor James Bertrand. The board also heard from several local parents opposed to sending children to the rally on school buses during school hours.
The rally is slated to be held locally in April.
Bertrand told the school board educators have the right to choose field trips that could provide different viewpoints for related classroom studies. He said field trips should offer alternative viewpoints to allow children to draw conclusions on their own regarding any subject matter.
Bertrand said the school board would not be endorsing religious teachings if it allowed students to attend a religious event for a field trip. He pointed out parents must first sign a permission slip to allow their children to participate any field trip. Parents are given details of what the field trip would entail and what activities would take place. If parents did not want their children to attend a particular field trip, they could opt not to send them, he said.
Bertrand said if a Bible club wanted to attend the "Just for Jesus" rally, it should be afforded the same rights as any other school club that is allowed to participate in field trips. That would include access to school transportation and chaperones.
"Just because it's a Bible club, it should not be treated any differently," Bertrand said.
Betty Riggins, a parent who has children who attend Kiroli Elementary School and Good Hope Middle School, said she was not in favor of sending students to the rally during school hours.
"You're only charge here is to educate children," she told the school board. "If you open this door, it will be accepted by the public that it is okay to send children to religious events."
Another parent, Nancy Counts, who has children who attend Good Hope and George Welch Elementary School, also opposed the field trip.
"I do object to any school district anywhere promoting a religious rally," she said. "I would rather us take that 30 minutes to address student achievement and not open up an unnecessary can of worms."
Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber said the school board must determine the legality of the field trip.
Typically the school board does not vote on whether to allow a field trip, but board member Scott Robinson said the "Just for Jesus" matter was a controversial issue that "will fall back on our laps."
Monroe attorney Charles Kincade, who often represents the American Civil Liberties Union on issues in Ouachita Parish, also voiced his opposition to the field trip.
"You are a public body charged with public education of students," Kincade said.
"You are being asked to endorse something that is exclusively religious," Kincade continued. "This is improper and unlawful, and goes against the very foundation of separation of church and state. Government and religions are separate and when you mix them, you take away that freedom.
"Let Mr. Bertrand practice his religion how and when and where he wants, and let your students do the same in their private time."
Bertrand disagreed with the argument that the school board was being asked to endorse anything religious. He said students who attended the rally would be attending it for the educational and artistic aspects of it, not any religious aspect.