An evangelist known as "Bible Man" will no longer be permitted to lead religious classes at Coalmont Elementary School in Altamont, Tenn., after the Freedom From Religion Foundation lodged a complaint with the Grundy County Department of Education.
The school district for decades had allowed Horace Turner to lead monthly assemblies during school hours. His assemblies have included "baby Jesus" displays, sermons proclaiming that "Jesus died on the cross for our sins," bible readings, discussions about the meaning of bible stories, and distributions of religious literature.
"Allowing anyone access to public school students to proselytize, and including the events in the school's calendar, is illegal District endorsement of the speaker's religious message, in this case a Christian message," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter sent March 2. "'Bible Man' assemblies unabashedly promote Christianity over other religions and religion over nonreligion."
FFRF won a lawsuit against another Tennessee school that allowed an outside religious group to provide religious instruction to its students, the letter noted.
The fact that parents may have been allowed to excuse their children from the programs did not make a difference, explained Markert. "When children opt out, their absence is obvious, and the ostracism they suffer is precisely what the courts have sought to prevent . . . 'voluntariness' cannot excuse a constitutional violation."
"Public schools exist to educate, not proselytize. It's particularly pernicious that this missionary was allowed to prey on a captive audience of elementary school students, who are so young and vulnerable," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We were pleased to learn the district is taking appropriate steps to protect them from predators."
FFRF recently received word that the school district had ended Turner's unconstitutional programs.