Politics

Louisiana Rep. Johnson Claims California Atheists Are Trying to Spy on Students

Accusation relates to a federal lawsuit against public schools accused of teaching Christianity

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., accused atheist groups in California of spying on a school in his district where officials have been accused of teaching Christianity. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents a vast swath of Louisiana’s northwestern corner, accused California atheist groups of trying to spy on students at a school in his district by taking covert video.

“WARNING TO OUR FRIENDS IN BOSSIER SCHOOLS (Please share),” Johnson wrote on Facebook Tuesday, referring to Louisiana’s Bossier Parish (the state’s equivalent of a county) that includes parts of Shreveport.

“Last night we received very credible information that atheist litigation groups in CA have contacted private investigators in our area to try to hire them to obtain hidden video of Christian student groups and activities at Benton High School and potentially other Bossier Parish schools,” Johnson wrote.

The Louisiana Republican’s post was first reported by the Shreveport Times. Johnson’s spokeswoman, Ainsley Holyfield, declined the Times’ requests for information about the California litigation groups and the congressman’s sources.

“In order to protect the confidentiality of private citizens, the congressman will not comment regarding the firsthand accounts relayed to him on this matter,” Holyfield told the Times.

Roll Call sought comment from Johnson’s office but has not received a response.  

Johnson’s claims come as a federal lawsuit brought by four parents against Bossier schools for unconstitutionally teaching Christianity continues to unfold.

In February, four parents sued Bossier Parish schools, alleging that officials there use prayer on school property and during events, sports competitions, graduation ceremonies, awards assemblies, and student government meetings, the Times reported. School officials have also tried to spread Christian messages to non-Christian students, the lawsuit alleges.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents.

“We absolutely have not” tried to spy on Bossier schools by hiring private investigators to shoot covert video, Rob Boston, communications director for the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State told the Times.

Johnson has sided with the school board as the legal process hurtles toward its April 8 trial date.

“Our district is following the law — even as we fight vigorously to defend religious freedom,” he wrote Tuesday. “Sadly, Bossier schools will have to endure this legal harassment from the atheist groups for a while now, so everyone needs to be prepared.”

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