Anti-drug assembly to be vetted for religious content (July 9, 2014)

A high school in Jacksboro, Tenn., will vet future assemblies to ensure no inappropriate religious programming, after being contacted by an attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about a problem at a March school assembly. According to a student in the district, Campbell County Comprehensive High School hosted an assembly in its gymnasium during the school day regarding drug use that opened and closed with a prayer delivered by a student, and featured religious leaders.

In addition to a county sheriff, the speakers included Caleb Arnold of the Hill College Ministry, representatives of the Stanfield Church of God, and the Christian alternative rock band the Birdsongs. This band describes themselves on their website as being, “passionate about spreading the gospel and pointing people to Christ.”

The complainant reported that “references to god and Christianity” and “quotes from the bible” were prevalent throughout the assembly and that “some of the speakers spoke about how drugs affected them and how God helped them overcome their problems.” One speaker told students that “Jesus Christ delivered [them] from methamphetamine.”

The complainant reported that not only was this assembly mandatory but said, “some people I know didn’t want to go, given their beliefs, and were forced to attend the assembly.”

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the director of schools on March 28 to inform the district that it is inappropriate and illegal to take away instructional time from the students to expose them to Christian proselytization:

“Though teaching students about the perils of drug abuse is a commendable goal, allowing church representatives and an evangelical Christian band access to your student body gives the appearance that CCPS endorses those speakers’ religious messages.”

On July 9, after receiving two follow-up queries from FFRF, the district responded: “It was the assumption of the principal at the school that this would be a program in which the primary emphasis would be on curbing potential drug use. As a result of your letter we have spoken with the principal and have asked that he do a better job scrutinizing the content of future assemblies.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation