First-graders in a Hondo, Texas, public elementary school will no longer be saying prayers at the direction of their teacher, said the school principal in response to a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of one of its Texas members.
The complainants’ daughter was in the first-grade class, where the teacher, Tina Mumme, asked her students to pray each day during morning announcements. When a substitute teacher was present, the students were instead told to have a moment of silence.
Hondo is about an hour west of San Antonio and has one public elementary school. In the Foundation’s letter to the school, Staff Attorney Rebecca (Kratz) Markert noted that the prayerful teacher had taught in the district for 26 years and “has never been called out for this illegal conduct.”
Mumme was Meyer Elementary’s Teacher of the Year for 2008-09. Her bio on the school’s Web site notes that one of her sons attends the University of the Incarnate Word, a Catholic school with its main campus in San Antonio.
“It is well settled that a public school teacher may not lead, direct or ask her students to engage in prayer,” the Foundation’s letter said. “The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and teacher- or school-led prayer in public schools.”
Courts have struck down prayer in public schools because it’s government endorsement of religion, Markert said. “Your school district should make certain that its teachers are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters.”
The Hondo Independent School District’s official policy also prohibits staff from encouraging students to either pray or refrain from praying in school. The school’s principal responded within a week of getting the Foundation’s letter to say she had met with Mumme to remind her of the prayer prohibition. “She understands and will follow correct policy,” wrote Principal Ellen Schueling.
“I will be holding meeting with the teachers at each grade level to make sure all of them are in complete understanding of the policy,” Schueling said.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president, called the violation “egregious” and said it was fairly shocking to get such a complaint from a parent in this day and age.
“It’s been nearly 50 years since the Supreme Court moved to protect schoolchildren from government-fostered prayer,” she said.