The Freedom From Religion Foundation has had prayer struck from a performance at an Arkansas elementary school.
FFRF was informed by a concerned parent that students at Westside Elementary School in Jonesboro, Ark., were going to perform in in a Thanksgiving-themed program with music and poetry. Students were sent home with a list of lyrics to memorize including one assigned piece featuring a prayer that read:
“Thank you for the world so sweet, Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing, Thank you God for everything.”
FFRF took swift action to remedy this intermingling of secular schooling and religion. In a letter sent to the school district, FFRF asked that the prayer and any other religious messages be removed from the school’s Thanksgiving performance.
Teaching a prayer to students is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause, and teaching a prayer as part of a holiday celebration is no defense, FFRF contended.
Furthermore, FFRF noted in its letter that inducing young and impressionable children to give thanks to God is an usurpation of parental authority. It is not a public school’s role to direct a child’s religious or nonreligious upbringing — that right is reserved for parents only.
“Such a practice alienates the students, teachers, and members of the community whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara to Superintendent Scott Gauntt.
FFRF asked that staff at the school be reminded of their obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official public roles.
Gauntt responded promptly, informing FFRF that he had investigated the reported violation and, after finding it to be true, had the prayer removed from the program. FFRF was also assured that the issue had been discussed with the elementary school principal to keep further First Amendment violations from happening.
“We will be more diligent in the future in an attempt to uphold the letter of the law in regards to separation of church and state,” writes Gauntt.
FFRF is applauding the school district’s dignified response.
“It is commendable that the school district reviewed the violation and took sincere action to uphold its constitutional obligation to protect the students’ rights of conscience,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with roughly 30,000 members across the country, including members in Arkansas. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.