The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking Lumpkin County Schools in Georgia to discipline four staffers who left their classrooms unattended and about 50 students who skipped class to join a prayer rally that started in a coach's office.
The national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., wants the teachers involved to be "permanently removed from duty." In a May 9 letter to Superintendent Dewey Moye, FFRF also raised other concerns about religion in Lumpkin County High School in Dahlonega.
The letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel was sent to Moye after he publicly stated that there would be no "consequences for any employee or any student" involved in the May 1 episode. FFRF informed Moye that such leniency shows unconstitutional favoritism to religion and that it will "encourage participants to repeat the crime." As one student participant told that media: "I would do it again tomorrow."
Media reported that the prayer started about 7:30 a.m. and lasted for more than six hours. One student claimed that "between 12 and 15 fellow students turned their lives over to Christ during the prayer."
FFRF made it clear that "We are not asking you to punish people for exercising their religious faith. We are asking you to discipline teachers for violating the law and abandoning their duties and to discipline students for skipping class."
The letter pointed out that "Teachers left classrooms unattended — the gravity of that offense cannot be overstated. ... A medical emergency or fight could have broken out in the unattended classrooms."
FFRF also pointed out the complicity of the principal: "Either he knew this was happening and didn't stop it or he did not know that a significant portion of his charges and employees were violating the Constitution, state law and school rules. Each is a serious dereliction of duty."
Several new concerns about the unconstitutional encroachment of religion in Lumpkin County Schools indicate that the illegal prayer episode was foreseeable. FFRF has received multiple allegations of the highly religious nature of high school athletic programs, including coaches subjecting students to their personal religious beliefs and pressuring them about religion at games, practices or in classes they teach.
Seidel wrote, "We have been told that during practices, coaches ask students why they did not go to church. FFRF also received an allegation that "Kids were forced to wear team shirts saying something akin to 'God, Family, School, Basketball.' "
"Perhaps this is why students thought it acceptable to skip class in violation of the Georgia compulsory attendance law," Seidel added.
FFRF requests that "all teachers and students be made aware of the proper constitutional boundaries regarding prayer in public schools — that they not lead, encourage or suggest that students pray and that they not participate in any student-led prayer."