From 'prayer caravan' to 'the Lord's Prayer'

FFRF reports additional violations in Cullman County, Ala.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a second letter of complaint to the Cullman County Schools Attorney on July 30 regarding multiple pending violations of the First Amendment.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with more than 19,000 members across the country and a state chapter, Alabama Freethought Association.

The first complaint regarded an August 10 "prayer caravan" event, in which school district leaders and members plan to travel to every school in Cullman County, Ala., to say a 10-15 minute prayer. The event was created by Superintendent Billy Coleman and promoted on the school systems official website and Facebook page.

Coleman has since done several interviews stating the event won't be cancelled, averring the "prayer caravan" is not a school-sponsored event. The district removed the notice from its website after receiving the complaint.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a Cullman Country School Attorney today: "Wishing or stating that 'the school system doesn't sponsor' the event does not make it so. This event was organized by the Superintendent, who used his official power to post the event on the official district website, to post the event on the official district Facebook page, and the event bears the title 'Cullman County Schools Prayer Caravan.'"

Since its initial July 22 letter, FFRF has received reports from at least seven local families about additional violations in area schools, mostly regarding unconstitutional prayers. FFRF has been informed the district schools lead recitations of the Lord's prayer during the school day including over the loudspeaker system, have teacher-led prayer before lunch, at graduation ceremonies and according to one student "every school event... starts with a prayer."

Cullman Country Schools often hold school events in churches rather than schools themselves. Coleman frequently schedules a student investment dinner and school meetings at various churches around the area.

The most disturbing information FFRF received regards West Point Elementary School. Every Tuesday, according to a complainant a preacher visits to proselytize. Teachers reportedly have told student their teachers "would be disappointed" if students chose not to listen to the preacher.

Seidel points out, "This is a serious breach of the Constitution and wildly inappropriate. Public school teachers may not pressure students regarding matters of religion. Cullman County Schools has a lot of work to do to conform to the First Amendment of United States Constitution.

Specifically, it should:

-Cancel the prayer caravan

-Enforce law and supreme court precedent prohibiting schools and employees from organizing or encouraging prayer

-Inform all employees that organized prayer in school or at school events is unconstitutional and opens the district to legal liability

-Remove any and all special access preachers and other religious leaders have to the district

-Cancel or reschedule any the district events set to be held in a house of worship."

"We're shocked that in the 50th anniversary year of Abington v. Schempp, the 1963 Supreme Court decision barring reception of the Lord's prayer and devotional bible-reading in our public schools- to be informed this apparently is still going on in Alabama," said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. Ellery Schempp, the catalyst as a teenager for the historic challenge, is a lifetime member of FFRF who will be speaking at FFRF's upcoming 36h Annual National Convention.

FFRF hopes to receive a written response before August 7.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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