The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a follow-up letter to Houston County (Ga.) Schools documenting rampant and egregious violations of the First Amendment.
FFRF, a state-church watchdog, is also the nation’s largest assocation of freethinkers with more than 18,500 members, including 369 in Georgia.
FFRF sent its first letter to Houston County Schools (HCS) Superintendent James Hines on June 4, 2012, explaining that the graduation prayers, sermonizing, and religious music at Veterans High School graduation violated the Establishment Clause. The letter generated further complaints from students and parents prompting FFRF to send a letter the following day pointing out that there is a “systemic problem” of constitutional violations at Houston County graduations.
FFRF has now been contacted by eight families, each reporting multiple violations. (Along with the complaints were threats. One Warner Robins resident mentioned “sticking guns in your mouths and blowing the backs of your god damn heads off.”)
After researching the many complaints, FFRF emailed a July 12 letter to HCS general counsel William Jerles, delineating the various violations. Among the reported violations are:
• Prayers at other school events, such as assemblies, ceremonies, and school council meetings.
• Administrators encouraging teachers to pray.
• Teachers admitting, with pride, that “we (the teachers) did hold hands and have a prayer around the kids. It was lovely.”
• School alma mater songs endorsing religious belief over nonbelief.
• An HCS recommended “Summer Reading Program” including the violent Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye which has been accused of being anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic. The school described the books: “Jesus Christ has set up his perfect kingdom on earth. Yet evil still lurks in the hearts of the unbelieving.” Recent studies show that 25 percent of people under 30 are nonbelievers.
• Religious imagery, such as bible quotes, on school walls and websites.
• Schools partnering with churches in close and troubling relationships.
• Mandating attendance at religious ceremonies such as baccalaureate services.
FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel investigated and independently corroborated most of the claims. The 13 enclosures and more than 30 pages of evidence make it “clear that there is a systemic lack of adherence to and respect for the First Amendment in Houston County Schools.” Seidel wrote, “Extensive corrective measures, including training of all HCS employees and administrators on the proper boundaries of the Establishment Clause, are imperative.”