Tampa Bay Times (Tampa Bay, Florida)
By Jeffrey S. Solochek
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog with nearly 300 Tennessee members, has recently ended several First Amendment violations in Franklin County schools, Franklin Tenn. Tonight, Oct. 14, the school board will vote on FFRF's remaining complaint over the practice of opening North Lake Elementary PTO meetings with prayer.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter in early September about a memo circulated last December to parents of children attending North Lake Elementary. The memo said "Merry CHRISTmas" and mentioned that parents need to teach their children the "real reason for the season."
Markert additionally noted that candy canes were distributed by one teacher with a story attached claiming the origin of candy canes is religious: "The candymaker made the candy in the form of a 'J' to represent Jesus, who came to earth as our savior. . . Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received, by which we are all healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we can have the promise of eternal life."
Earlier this month, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted the district yet again regarding a complaint that a teacher at South Middle School had passed out bibles with bookmarks warning that people who do not believe in Jesus are damned. Seidel wrote, "Parents who send their children to school in your district entrust teachers to use their positions of authority and influence for secular educational purposes, not to indoctrinate 6th graders in the teacher's personal religion."
A lawyer for the district has responded that while the school board hadn't been aware of the bible and candy cane distributions, those practices would be halted immediately: "That's done, that's over."
FFRF has also asked the North Lake Elementary PTO to halt the practice of praying before PTO meetings, noting the practice is divisive. According to the Herald Chronicle, board member Chris McDonough suggested a moment of silence: "There are people in this county who do not go to churches, who do not believe the same things you do, and we have to make it possible for those people to feel comfortable as well. The majority doesn't rule."
FFRF has nearly 20,000 members nationwide, and is the largest association of atheists and agnostics in North America.
Compiled by Lauryn Seering