Tennessee Schools At It Again (October 2000)

On behalf of a family in Dayton, Tennessee, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting pervasive religious influence in the town’s public schools, including:

  • bible study in the classroom, conducted during school hours by an outside group of fundamentalist Christians from Bryan College
  • distribution of bibles in classrooms by the Gideon Society
  • morning bible reading over the intercom followed by a moment of silence; and
  • the posting of overtly religious messages by some teachers on the walls and doors of classrooms

The school board more than a year ago voted not to stop the bible classes.

Dan Barker, a spokesperson for the Foundation, which has members in the Dayton area, as well as throughout Tennessee, and in every state, sent an official letter of complaint to Superintendent Susan Porter, Rhea County Schools, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate.

Under McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948), religious instruction in the public schools is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand two lower court rulings barring distribution of Gideon Bibles on school property: Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954), reaffirmed in Berger v. Rensselaer, 982 F.2d, 1160 (7th Cir.) cert. denied, 124 L.E. 2d 254 (1993). A moment of silence with religious intent was halted as unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 72 (1985). Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools because they are religious.

The Tennessee Constitution also forbids such entanglements, stating that: “. . . no human authority can, in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” (Article I, Declaration of Rights)

In his letter, Barker noted that the family complainants object to “the indignity that their children (as young as kindergarten!) experience while being forced to sit through the indoctrination of someone else’s religion in their own public school system.”

The Foundation called for assurance that these blatantly illegal practices will be halted immediately.

“Seventy-five years after the Scopes Trial, is this where the Dayton public schools want to be–illegally promoting religion and violating the law?” Barker asked.

“The Dayton schools need to evolve,” Barker added.

Chattanooga radio stations have been covering the story, as well as the Chattanoogan. After a story about the issue ran in the Dayton Herald-News (which is editorializing in favor of the bible classes), a second family with children in the Dayton schools contacted the Foundation to join the complaint.

As of press time, no formal answer to the Foundation’s September 27 letter has been received from the school board, although Superintendent Porter has reportedly told the media that she is not afraid of a lawsuit, asserting that 99.9% of the community supports religion in the schools.

Bryan College is the bible school in Dayton that was founded in the name of William Jennings Bryan, who debated Clarence Darrow during the famous 1925 Scopes trial in that town.

Freedom From Religion Foundation