By: Pat Austin
BOSSIER CITY, LA – They say a picture “is worth a thousand words,” but perhaps sometimes no picture at all says so much more.
The front page of last week’s edition of the Airline High School newspaper was completely blank. Normally this would be a publisher’s nightmare. It is the equivalent of several minutes of dead air time on the radio.
In this case, the blank page was intentional.
The student produced newspaper originally featured a photo of students decorating a Christmas tree; one student was hanging an ornament that said “I love Jesus.” The ornaments were made by students who were describing what Christmas means to them.
The student newspaper is printed, basically at cost, by the Bossier Press-Tribune, for the school. When the faculty advisor realized that the central photo contained a religious message, a call was made to “stop the presses” until the school board attorney had been consulted.
The Bossier School system has learned to be cautious about such things. In 2018, the system was sued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State for “widespread unconstitutional promotion of Christianity throughout Bossier Parish, La public schools,” including, but not limited to student led prayer at graduation ceremonies, choir performances that include Christian songs, and promotion of Christianity through the athletic programs. The school system had to remove advertising from ChristFit gym from the endzone of the football field because their logo includes a cross and a scripture citation.
The lawsuit was settled in March, 2019, after the Bossier School Board agreed to revise its policy regarding religious expression.
After the Bossier Press stopped the presses on the Airline High newspaper last week, the attorney advised that the first page of the paper with the offending photograph should be replaced. Rather than replace the photo, or the entire page, the newspaper staff elected to send a message by running an entirely blank front page. No masthead, no explanation, no nothing. Blank. Silent.
Randy Brown, publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune, brought the matter to the public’s attention when he wrote an opinion piece in his own newspaper about the incident. Brown, saying that he was “brought to tears” by this, wrote, “In the Airline school newspaper situation, the bottom line is that while someone else’s First Amendment rights were upheld, the rights of the majority of the students were violated. In this case, the voice of Christianity was silenced.”
It is clear that the students wanted to send a message with the blank page. Other solutions were available such as replacing the photo, revising the page, or even blurring the message on the ornament. Many in the community applaud the blank page statement while others contend that the students were not censored, calling it “preemptive self-victimization.”
That may be a little harsh given the recent lawsuit and the microscope under which the system now operates.
Randy Brown was even criticized on social media by some people for his “emotional and propaganda filled” op-ed.
The Christmas season is obviously a Christian holiday and there are a lot of people who feel like that is under attack.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being tolerant and inclusive but that is a two way street, and many Christians feel persecuted, including, perhaps the student newspaper staff at Airline High School.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.