FFRF stops 3 violations in Tennessee schools (September 13, 2018)

The Cumberland County School District in Tennessee has remedied several state/church violations after receiving a letter from FFRF.

FFRF wrote to the district’s legal representation warning them of three constitutional violations.

First, FFRF’s complainant reported that Homestead Elementary School (HES) rents its facilities to a church group called “Plant, Grow, Harvest” on Sundays, but allows the group to advertise at the school during times when they are not renting the school facilities.

Secondly, HES reportedly regularly promoted religious events on its official Facebook page.

Lastly, Stone Memorial High School reportedly posted and shared religious messages on what appears to be an official Twitter account for its boys’ basketball team. Additionally, the school reportedly allowed a pastor to act as a “character coach” for SMHS basketball players.

In a video posted on Upper Cumberland Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s Facebook page, SMHS basketball coach Neil Capps explained that he was approached by FCA about starting a “character coach program.” He wrote that he allowed a pastor named Robert McTurnal to act as a character coach for his team. He acknowledges that the team refers to him as “Coach Robert,” and states that Pastor McTurnal is “a part of our staff now.” Capps admits that McTurnal does a “weekly devotional.”

In the video, McTurnal stated, “I got involved here because I found out that I couldn’t get into this school on my own. So, I found out through the umbrella of FCA, I had an opportunity to come in and serve the basketball team as their character coach.

“Since then it’s been amazing just getting to know the boys, getting to minister them, you know, outside of a church. Meeting them right where they are has been a fantastic opportunity.”

“CCDS cannot allow a non-school adult access to the children in its charge, and it certainly cannot grant that access to a minister seeking to grow his religious ministry by targeting students,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line in the letter.

The legal firm representing the district wrote back to FFRF on Sept. 13, ensuring that all three issues have been investigated and that the religious signs have been removed and that the church no longer rents the building, that posting about religious club events will no longer appear to be endorsed by the school, and that both the basketball coach and the “character coach” have been informed that they cannot promote religion to their players.

Freedom From Religion Foundation