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Louisiana School Officials Overlook Concerns about Religious Field Trip

December 6th, 2022

Thousands of public school students in Baton Rouge, LA were taken on a religious field trip that may have violated multiple federal laws.

School workers are overlooking arguments raised by students who participated in a “Day of Hope” religious field trip. The students and their parents are arguing that the event was more a religious activity than either a career or a college event, which is how the event was billed. According to the school employees, the “Day of Hope” did not constitute a religious event. They claimed that prayers that occurred during the trip were spontaneous and led by students.

The Origin of the Religious Field Trip

Over 2,100 students from a Baton Rouge high school were excused from class to attend the event. Many students and parents have critiqued the event, alleging that students were misled into participating in a religious field trip.

The event received sponsorship from the small and local nonprofit 29:11 Mentoring Families. This religious nonprofit previously sponsored similar events, but this event marked a much larger one than those that occurred in the past, and was portrayed as a college and career fair.

The partnership was officially entered into on July 22, 2022, as part of a memorandum of understanding. This agreement listed one of the organizers as the “Executive Director” of the “29:11 Academy.” As a term of the agreement, the school remained obligated to spend almost $10,000 to underwrite the “Day of Hope Student Conference & College Fair” costs, in addition to the transportation costs. Apparently, the school superintendent was able to approve the religious field trip without school board approval because the event cost just under $10,000.

Uproar over the Religious Field Trip

A senior at the high school who has spoken about the event commented that adults instead of students prompted the religious activities that happened during the day. The senior commented that the events were not led by students, but instead, adults sang religious songs and prayers to the students. 

Another student who spoke about the religious field trip commented that students led no prayers. Rather, the students alleged that adults came onto the stage and read verses from the Bible at the beginning of the event. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has sent a letter to the East Baton Rouge Public Schools warning them that the religious field trip likely violated multiple federal laws. “In its letter, the ACLU alleges the event violated the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.” 

The School’s Response

The Chief of Communications for the East Baston Rouge Parish school system blamed the late school buses over complaints that female and male students were treated differently during the event. Specifically, the Chief of Communications said, female students listened to three speakers who addressed their personal experiences of being a virgin and issues of sexual assault and suicide. Because the buses were late, the speaker sessions for the male students were substantially reduced. Despite this, the sessions still managed to address topics like being responsible, making healthy choices, and the value of friendship.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse initially deflected criticism of the event, but now the school system is “taking these community concerns seriously and conducting appropriate follow up,” according to the statement.

Universal Life Church 

The Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting the most noteworthy debates over religious rights in a school setting. We try to tackle complicated and difficult issues of our fundamental rights and freedoms in a fair and balanced manner. 

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