Tennessee DHS removes religious endorsement from training

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Certain state workers in Tennessee will no longer be subjected to unconstitutional religious endorsement in their state-mandated training after intervention from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A Tennessee resident and child care provider contacted FFRF to report that the state’s required training and certification contained blatant religious promotion. Citizens were required to complete the Tennessee Child Care Online Training System entitled, “Building Strong Brains: Tennessee’s ACE initiative,” that included religious statements, bible verses and a clear misunderstanding of basic scientific principles.

One of the lessons, with the title of “Frederick’s Experiment,” was provided by a religious organization called “Digma.” Digma was created by Christian evangelist Ty Gibson. Gibson is the founder of a religious ministry called Light Bearers, which describes itself as a “full-throttle gospel ministry, urgent to hasten the second coming of Christ, by spreading the good news of His saving grace, in the context of three angels’ messages, as fast and as far as possible with the talents and resources God gives us.” 

Given Gibson’s religious background and evangelical mission, it is not surprising that Digma’s lesson included blatant religious promotion. One lesson, after challenging evolution, concluded with: 

“We can’t help but ask the obvious question at some point: What is the something more that we so desperately long for? In two simple declarations, the Bible offers the answer:

‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) 

And ‘God made mankind in His own image’ (Genesis 1:27).

Mystery solved!”

It is well-established law that, as a government agency representing all citizens in the state of Tennessee, the Department of Human Services  is prohibited from endorsing religion over nonreligion or Christianity over all other faiths. 

“By advocating for religious belief and promoting Christianity through mandatory state training for child care workers, DHS is impermissibly endorsing religion and violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote in his Jan. 23 letter to DHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes. 

The Department of Human Services’ legal counsel informed FFRF that the Frederick’s Experiment portion of the training had been removed for containing materials that reference a religious doctrine. 

FFRF commends the department for taking swift action to remove this religious messaging from the program, ensuring the constitutionally protected freedom of conscience of all citizens who are required to undergo this training. 
“Religion is inherently divisive and completely unnecessary in a state-mandated child care training program,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We applaud the state for siding with the Constitution and the inclusivity of all its citizens.” 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 300 members and a chapter in Tennessee. 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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