FFRF tells Louisiana school district to put kibosh on prayer

1shutterstock 399164044ByBorysevych

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Louisiana school district to discontinue unconstitutional prayers at its staff training events.

FFRF first wrote in 2013 to Zachary Community Schools in Zachary, La., when the district was illegally hosting employee convocations, including prayer, in a church. The district took steps in response to FFRF to distance itself from any church-endorsed religious message. While recent employee convocations have taken place on school district property, FFRF has been informed that the district still unlawfully schedules Christian prayer in its convocation programs, now led by students.

In a new letter of complaint, FFRF reminds the district that federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion. The district may not permissibly invite students to deliver prayers at school events.

By including prayer at staff training events, the district violates its obligation to remain neutral on matters of religion. Regardless of who delivers the prayer, the district has granted its seal of approval to the speaker's exclusively religious message, which it cannot do.

Besides being unconstitutional, it is simply good policy to end prayer rituals. Prayer at government-sponsored events is unnecessary and divisive. Individuals are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time, but calling upon district employees to participate in prayer is coercive and beyond the scope of a secular employer. Such prayer can polarize a community and make minority religious and nonreligious employees feel like outsiders in their place of work.

"Not only is it rude and insensitive for a government institution to inflict prayer on all employees despite their personal beliefs, but it may also constitute workplace harassment," writes FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover to Zachary Community Schools Superintendent Scott Devillier.

To avoid the constitutional concerns and the divisiveness these prayers cause within the district, FFRF is calling for a simple solution: discontinuance of official, government prayers at employee convocations and other district-sponsored events.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state and educate on matters of nontheism. FFRF currently has more than 29,000 members across the country including many members in Louisiana.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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