Mandatory school meetings are not church services (September 3, 2014)

Dawson County School District in Gainesville, Ga., will no longer hold meetings for teachers in churches or force them to listen to prayers and sermons.

A complainant reported to FFRF that the district held a mandatory staff meeting on Aug. 4 at the First Baptist Church of Dawsonville. The meeting was opened by a minister who gave a sermon inviting people to join his church and “come to Jesus.” He then urged the teachers to stand while he prayed to “bless” the teachers, school year, students, etc.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on August 15 stating:

“It is . . . inappropriate for an official government meeting to be held in a religious place of worship. This practice forces employees, who may be of varying religions or have none at all, to enter a house of worship. For some, it would conflict with their beliefs and freedom of conscience to be forced to enter the church as a job requirement.”

Seidel explained that the violation would not be solved simply by allowing employees to skip the church meeting. Employees should not be forced to “out” themselves as nonreligious or non-Christian to their government employers. Requiring staff attendance at essentially a church service as a condition of receiving important school information is unacceptable and raises serious constitutional concerns.

On Sept. 3, the District responded: “While a church leader was invited to give a brief welcome to the facility, the length and nature of the comments was unexpected and certainly not invited. Under all the circumstances there is no expectation of such a gathering at the church anytime in the future.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation