The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Arkansas Department of Education to address the unconstitutional religious promotion included in an online health class it offers.
A concerned parent of an Arkansas public high school student reported to FFRF that their child’s online health course, administered through Virtual Arkansas, contains explicit religious promotion. In one assignment titled “Healthy Habits for Mental Wellness,” students were presented with “twenty suggestions for healthy habits we can practice in five different dimensions, which integrate to enhance mental health.” One of these dimensions is “spiritual,” which is defined as “establishing a relationship with the Giver and Sustainer of life and health.” The program suggests students should tend to said “spiritual dimension” through, among other things, “daily devotionals” and “praying for others.”
“Every religious system promotes a time of prayer and meditation, preferably at the beginning of the day,” the program reads. “The devotional session is a time to render worship and express gratitude for life, which you acknowledge that you have no ability to sustain. The sense of connection with God, the Supreme Being, boosts your mental awareness that supernatural support is available throughout the day. You worry less and praise more.”
Under the “Praying for Others” heading, the suggestions continue: “Praying for others provides an opportunity for you to forget your own troubles. It is an exercise which helps you become interested in someone else, whether to request compassion on their behalf, or to share their expectations. Praying for others underscores your personal belief in a God who cares.”
The inclusion of this exclusionary proselytization as part of public school curriculum is completely inappropriate and demonstrates an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara points out to Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key.
“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” McNamara writes. “Assigning students reading materials that encourage them to pray and worship a monotheistic god violates this basic constitutional stricture.”
FFRF is asking that the district has these lesson materials immediately removed from the “Health and Wellness” curriculum and that the department investigate Virtual Arkansas’ course offerings to ensure that no other courses contain unlawful religious promotion.
“Injecting these explicit instructions for religious practice as part of a public school curriculum is horrendous,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Not only is this unconstitutional, but it is a gross violation of the rights of conscience of students and their parents — the ones who ought to be responsible for decisions about their children’s religious upbringing.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members across the country, including Arkansas. 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.