Tenn. public school disrespects nonreligious veterans, FFRF intervenes

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is spotlighting a troubling Veterans Day constitutional violation at a Tennessee middle school.

A concerned district parent, who is also a veteran, reported that the recent Veterans Day program at Smith County Middle School included a Christian prayer. The program reportedly ended with the principal leading a moment of silence and then handing the microphone to a student who recited the Lord’s Prayer. The parent reportedly brought this constitutional violation to the attention of the principal, who then berated the individual and made them feel unwelcome at the school.

“While it is laudable for the Smith County Middle School to organize, sponsor and host a Veterans Day assembly, it is unconstitutional to allow religious messages to be part of school-sponsored activities,” writes FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line in his letter to Smith County School System Director of Schools Barry H. Smith.

Courts have continually ruled that the presence of prayer at public school events violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, FFRF reminds the district. Additionally, religious practices at Veterans Day events are exclusionary of nonreligious service members.

“Many ‘atheists in foxholes’ have served our country with distinction,” Line writes. “Veterans of any religion or no religion should be equally honored. Prayers at these ceremonies amount to a government endorsement of religion that excludes the 23 percent of service members who are atheists, agnostics or have no religious preference.”

FFRF is asking that the district take immediate action to ensure that future district programs and assemblies do not include prayer.

“It is admirable for the district to plan an event to honor our veterans, but that should include all of our veterans,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This is yet another example of prayer at public school-sponsored events being unnecessary and divisive.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 300 members in Tennessee and an East Tennessee chapter. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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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