US Rep: Atheists trying to spy on Christian student groups
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A northwest Louisiana congressman says "Atheist litigation groups" are trying to spy on Christian student groups at a school in his district.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson made the allegation Tuesday on what he describes as his "campaign/personal Facebook page" — not on his official House Facebook page, House webpage or in a news release.
Johnson alleges that private investigators have attempted to make "hidden" videos of Christian activities at Benton High School "and potentially other Bossier Parish schools," the Shreveport Times reported . However, he declined through a spokeswoman to answer questions about the allegations.
"In order to protect the confidentiality of private citizens, the congressman will not comment regarding the firsthand accounts relayed to him on this matter," spokeswoman Ainsley Holyfield told the newspaper.
A trial is scheduled April 8 in a federal lawsuit alleging that teachers and staffers at Bossier Parish schools promote Christianity, and that some try to shame or coerce non-Christian students.
It was filed by Washington-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
"We absolutely have not" hired private investigators to spy on Bossier Parish students, the group's spokesman, Rob Boston, said Tuesday.
Attorneys met for a settlement conference Sept. 5. Two days later, on the district attorney's advice, school officials ordered the removal of the Christ Fit Gym's logo from the Benton High School football field. The Bossier Parish School Board voted to restore the logo Sept. 11 and ended settlement talks.
Schools Superintendent Scott Smith declined to comment on Johnson's allegations.
Jon Guice, an attorney representing the school district, said Tuesday that he'd heard accusations similar to ones made by Johnson but had no firsthand knowledge of such attempts and had not seen Johnson's Facebook post.
Johnson wrote in the post that "these groups perceive the Bossier Parish School District as an ATM machine for attorney fee awards in what they believe will be easy Establishment Clause cases" — that is, the First Amendment's ban on state religion.
"They are wrong, as our district is following the law — even as we fight vigorously to defend religious freedom. Sadly, Bossier schools will have to endure this legal harassment from the atheist groups for a while now, so everyone needs to be prepared," Johnson wrote.
Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com