Parents of Buddhist Student Sue La. School Dist. for Religious Bullying - Civil Rights Law - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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Parents of Buddhist Student Sue La. School Dist. for Religious Bullying

Parents in Louisiana's Sabine Parish are embroiled in a legal battle with the school district after their children were harassed for not being Christian.

The ACLU sued on Scott and Sharon Lane's behalf after three of their children were allegedly bullied for their differing religious beliefs. The complaint filed in late January included examples of one of the younger Lane's science tests, complete with fill in the blank questions like "Isn't it amazing what the [blank] has made." The correct answer was "Lord."

Can this suit make a dent in the policies of a Bible Belt school?

'This Is the Bible Belt'

The Lanes did take some non-legal action after learning that their children were the subject of ridicule for not sharing their peers' (and teachers') Christian faith. The parents allegedly spoke with the Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb about a teacher harassing their youngest son, only to be told by Ebarb that "[t]his is the Bible Belt."

While that sounds a bit like a line from "300," Ebarb added her own original style by allegedly recommending that the boy (who is a Buddhist of Thai descent) transfer to another district where "there are more Asians."

Sounds like a good case to take in front of a jury, right? But aside from making 12 or so random Louisiana residents loathe a small-town school district, is there much to be gained from this kind of suit?

Discrimination and School Suits

While the allegations against Sabine's schools are pretty awful, as a practitioner who takes this kind of case, you need to consider what's best for your client. As the Fifth Circuit has demonstrated, even seemingly trivial religious discrimination cases involving public schools can take decades to wrap up.

Louisiana is also not particularly well-known for its racial tolerance despite decades of federal court orders demanding that schools desegregate. So while the ACLU may have its reasons for choosing the Lane's case -- perhaps to test the waters for future similar cases -- practitioners should be prepared to discuss the practical details of such a suit with their clients.

Your clients should know if their school discrimination suit may take years if not decades to truly come to a close. And if, at the end of the suit, the remedy is not monetary -- which seems very likely in this and similar cases -- specific injunctive relief may be less than comforting. Putting a finer point on it, the Lanes may not want their children to return to the allegedly toxic environment of Sabine Parish -- with or without court orders from successful suit.

Hopefully the ACLU has managed the Lanes' expectations and whatever changes may come of their suit will be positive.

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