SHREVEPORT, La. (Christian Examiner) – The community of Keithville, Louisiana, is rallying behind a local school principal after the ACLU attacked him for his expression of personal religious beliefs in trying to encourage parents and teach character to his students.
Albert Hardison, the principal of Walnut Hill Elementary School, which ranks in the top third of all elementary schools in Louisiana, came under fire from the ACLU of Louisiana about his including references to his Christian faith in official messages.
In a letter to Caddo Parish Schools, the state chapter of the civil liberties organization complained that a parent newsletter Hardison wrote asked parents to pray God would give students "strength and mental fortitude" as well as "the patience, the wisdom and the energy" for them to do their best on upcoming state standardized tests.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, also objected to Hardison's reference to Phillippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."
But she listed other offenses as well, including a "Principal's message" on the school's website that mentioned a student prayer group, "Hornets for Hope." Hardison said the children truly blessed him because of their prayers and thanks "to the Son of God for carrying our school over the thorns of negativity and the thistles of discord and setting it gently on the petals of harmony and the lily of tranquility."
He also noted they "thank God for giving us a school that believes in God, family, and education."
"We thank God for helping us to realize that if we removed Christ, family, and teachers from the lives of our children there is no way that adding more police officers, legislating more laws, building more jails, requiring more testing, mandating more parental involvement, earning more money, or purchasing more things could ever replace the blessings of God, the love of our family, and the knowledge imparted by our teachers," he said. "A hundred years from now it will not matter what type of house we lived in, what color our skin was, how much money we had or what brand of clothes we wore, but what will matter is that we steadfastly walked in the ways of Christ, that we honored and loved our parents, family, and fellow man and that we lived by our school motto."
The Shreveport Times reported the Caddo Parish Schools had released a statement saying "it would investigate the matter internally and make certain there isn't a constitutional violation."
"In this instance, questionable materials subsequently have been removed from district web pages while the investigation continues," the statement read. "If there is a violation, we will make certain we act swiftly to ensure we do not have any further violations."
In response, a local Southern Baptist congregation, Grawood Baptist Church, held a community event April 3 where hundreds of parents and students expressed overwhelming support for the principal, according to local ABC affiliate KTBS TV.
A Facebook page "Support Albert Hardison" created by Walnut Hills parents has tallied more than 8,000 "Likes" while rallying the community to defend the principal against attacks "by someone who has no affiliation with the school!!! We as parents must come together." Several commenters expressed disbelief that something he has done for years is under scrutiny now, especially during state testing.
Meanwhile, at least one teacher's aide, who also is the Walnut Hill PTA president, told the Shreveport Times that Hardison's beliefs help teach basic values the community embraces.
"I think the ACLU should stay out of our school and leave us alone," Jeanine Rowe said. "We are a successful school. We're not hurting anybody. We're not forcing our beliefs on anybody. They are our beliefs."