The Freedom From Religion Foundation stepped in to mend constitutional violations in three Georgia school districts that were promoting religion.
FFRF sent letters to Towns County Schools, Hancock County Schools and Carroll County Schools after receiving reports that employees in these three districts had been endorsing Christianity.
A concerned parent reported to FFRF that a kindergarten teacher at Towns County Elementary School in Hiawassee, Ga., had been reading bible stories to students. The school was also regularly sending religious fliers home with students and requiring them to participate in a tree lighting event that opened with a prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to the district, informing the superintendent that public school teachers may not lead their students in prayer or encourage students to pray. Line also warned the district against requiring students to participate in an event that opens with prayer and distributing religious materials. All of these actions equate to a public school endorsement of religion, which is unconstitutional.
FFRF was informed by an area resident that the softball coach at Hancock County Middle School in Sparta, Ga., had been praying with her team.
“The coach’s conduct is unconstitutional because she endorses and promotes her religion when acting in her official capacity as a school district employee,” wrote Line to the Hancock County Schools superintendent. “When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, she effectively endorses religion on the district’s behalf.”
Two violations in Carroll County Schools were brought to FFRF’s attention. FFRF was notified that Glanton-Hindsman Elementary School in Villa Rica, Ga., was promoting a local church on its official Facebook page. A post from August indicated that the school was “adopted” by the Villa Rica First Baptist Church and is a “prayer partner” of the church. A second violation by another school in the district was reported by a concerned parent who informed FFRF that Whitesburg Elementary School in Whitesburg, Ga., had allowed members of a local church to hand out bags with Christian materials to students inside the school cafeteria before lunch.
Line wrote to a legal representative of Carroll County Schools informing the district that it advanced and promoted religion when its employees posted messages in support of religious groups on official social media pages — which violates the Constitution. Line also wrote that it is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit churches to distribute proselytizing materials as part of the school day.
Each of the three school districts recently responded, informing FFRF that they would ensure that their school officials abide by the parameters of the First Amendment and comply with their constitutional obligation to remain neutral in matters involving religion.
FFRF is pleased that the districts have taken action to foster a more inclusive environment for public school students.
“Young students of varied beliefs — and no belief — should not be bombarded with Christianity by their public schools," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s commendable that the districts are remedying these violations.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 30,000 members and 20 chapters across the country, including 500 members in Georgia and a state chapter. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.