FFRF Lawsuit Challenges Religious Instruction in Tennessee

A lawsuit to halt pervasive illegal religious practices in public schools in Rhea County, Tennessee was filed in the courtroom of Chief Judge Edgar, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, on April 26 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Dayton, Tennessee, of Scopes Trial fame, is the county seat.

"This case arises out of the policy, practice and custom of the defendants in promoting the teaching of religion to public school children in Rhea County," the complaint states, "by permitting college students from Bryan College to attend classes and teach 'the Bible' to students in grades K-12."

Co-plaintiffs "John Doe" and "Mary Roe" are seeking confidentiality "for fear of physical and/or economic harm from persons favoring such unconstitutional programs," the complaint states.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was contacted by the plaintiffs last year who sought help to end illegal bible study in the classroom, distribution of bibles in classrooms, and other First Amendment violations.

The Foundation sent an official letter of complaint on Sept. 27, 2000, to Susan Porter, Rhea County Superintendent, who is named as a defendant, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate. The Foundation requested that the schools stop teaching and endorsing Christian religious beliefs and practices. As a result of the letter, the Rhea County Commission on October 17, 2000, adopted a unanimous resolution approving the bible classes. Also named as defendant is Jimmy Wilkey, County Executive for Rhea County, Tennessee.

"Plaintiffs Jane Roe and John Doe object to the misallocation of public facilities and public school time, paid for at taxpayers' expense, for the purpose of teaching public school children religious beliefs and practices to which they personally do not subscribe," the complaint says. "Plaintiff Roe's children are of tender years and are, therefore, extremely vulnerable to such religious proselytization."

The lawsuit invokes more than 50 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent against such practices, including the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education 333 US 203 (1948), striking down religious instruction in public schools.

Doe v Porter can be found online at: http://www.ffrf.org/news/daytoncomplaint.html

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