Arkansas violations get cleared up by FFRF by Molly Hanson

By Molly Hanson

FFRF has had prayer struck from a performance at an Arkansas elementary school.

FFRF learned that students at Westside Elementary School in Jonesboro, Ark., were going to perform in a Thanksgiving-themed program with music and poetry. Students were sent home with a list of lyrics to memorize, including one assigned piece featuring a prayer that read:

“Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything.”

FFRF took swift action to remedy this intermingling of secular schooling and religion. In a letter sent to the school district, FFRF asked that the prayer and any other religious messages be removed from the school’s Thanksgiving performance.

Teaching a prayer to students is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause, and imposing a prayer as part of a holiday celebration is no defense, FFRF contended.

Furthermore, FFRF noted in its letter that inducing young and impressionable children to give thanks to God is a usurpation of parental authority. It is not a public school’s role to direct a child’s religious or nonreligious upbringing — that right is reserved for parents only.

“Such a practice alienates the students, teachers, and members of the community whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school,” wrote FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara to Superintendent Scott Gauntt. Gauntt responded promptly, informing FFRF that he had investigated the reported violation and, after finding it to be true, had the prayer removed from the program.

FFRF serves up law to pizza joint

A local patron of Johnny Brusco’s New York Style Pizza in Bentonville, Ark., informed FFRF that the restaurant was offering and promoting a 10 percent discount on Sundays to customers presenting a church bulletin.

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the manager to inform him that the deal favored religious customers and denied customers who did not attend church the right to “full and equal” enjoyment of the pizza joint, a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The discount also violated Arkansas state law.

FFRF received a phone call on Nov. 17 from the manager, who communicated that the discount was not being offered anymore.

No more proselytizing at elementary school

It was reported to FFRF that Westside Elementary School in Jonesboro, Ark., hosted a presentation by a Christian minister this September in the school gymnasium.

During the presentation, the children were given rubber bracelets from the local Philadelphia Baptist Church that read, “PBC Living God, Serving Others, Go Warriors.” At the end of the assembly, the children received free tickets to a pizza party and church services at PBC scheduled that same night.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter on Oct. 18 to the school district superintendent informing the district that it is inappropriate to take away educational time from students to expose them to a Christian proselytizing group.

On Oct. 27, FFRF received a written promise from Superintendent Scott Gauntt that the violation would not recur and that additional training would be provided to building principals as to the law in public school and religion matters.

Freedom From Religion Foundation