ACLU: ‘Day of Hope’ event for East Baton Rouge students violated civil rights laws

By: - October 3, 2022 1:35 pm
empty classroom desks

East Baton Rouge public school students were made to participate in a religious event, prompting community upset (Photo by MChe Lee | Unsplash)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sent a letter Monday to officials with East Baton Rouge Public Schools, warning them that a controversial off-campus event for high school seniors last month likely violated multiple federal laws. 

The Sept. 20 event, dubbed a “Day of Hope,” was billed as a college and career fair with games and guest speakers. More than 2,100 students were bussed to Living Faith Christian Center, where they were separated by sex. Speakers talked to female students about forgiving their rapists, modesty and abstinence, according to accounts from those in attendance. Male students were encouraged to take part in pushup competitions for money. 

At least one transgender student, who identifies as male, was prevented from leaving the female group. Other transgender students reported being bullied at the event.

The event was organized by local nonprofit 29:11 Mentoring Families. The name references a Bible verse from the Book of Jeremiah. 

The event has received intense backlash from the community, including students who said it traumatized them. 

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. 

“Students were treated differently based on their gender and harmful gender stereotypes,” the letter said. “Moreover, EBRS’s sponsorship of the Day of Hope subjected students, including minority-faith and non-religious students, to proselytizing and prayer, infringing on their right to be free from official promotion and imposition of religious messages.” 

“Gender-segregated programs and activities are tolerated only under very limited circumstances,” the letter said. Such separation requires advance notice, written consent from parents or guardians and an equal coed alternative, according to the ACLU. 

The ACLU asks the school system to investigate the event, hold accountable those responsible for any abuse and guard against future discrimination. The organization also requested a meeting with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. 

The school system has agreed to pay $9,800 to 29:11 Mentoring Families for hosting the event, WBRZ-TV has reported. Any expenses over $10,000 require school board approval.

In response to criticism, the school district referred to the event as an “elevated college and career fair.” It noted the system has previously worked with 29:11 Mentoring Families to “provide additional support services for students in our district.” 

“We look forward to seeing what our over 2,100 student participants will continue to achieve with the resources and knowledge gained from this event,” a statement from the system said.

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.