FFRF letter prompts Louisiana schools to admit error in co-sponsoring National Day of Prayer ad

Principals of two schools in a public school district in Allen Parish, La., authorized a local newspaper editor to use Kinder Elementary and Kinder Middle School as sponsors of an ad promoting local National Day of Prayer events. The two schools paid the local newspaper to have its name and image included in this National Day of Prayer advertisement, along with biblical verses (Jeremiah 33:3 and Philippians 4:6). Rebecca Markert, FFRF staff attorney, wrote the district: “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits public schools from advancing, supporting or promoting religion. Because the National Day of Prayer is a religious event, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause for a public school to sponsor or endorse an observance of it. It is a further violation for a school to spend taxpayer money to advertise a religious event. . . . From all appearances, these ads signal to the reasonable district student, parent, or community resident that the Schools endorse the religious — namely Christian — message of the National Day of Prayer,” the letter said.

The district superintendent wrote the Foundation [August 13, 2010] that the two principals had agreed to contribute to the cost of the ad “and they agreed in hindsight, the ads should not have been placed as it could be construed as advocating religious beliefs. They also agreed that no such advertisement will be sponsored in the future. . . . It is the policy and position of the Allen Parish School Board to take a neutral stance regarding religion but to also be respectful of the religious beliefs of our students and staff or lack thereof.” — Bonnie Gutsch

Freedom From Religion Foundation