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FFRF urges Missouri district to address widespread state/church violations

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has given a Missouri public school district six directives to protect the right of conscience of its students against illegal government promotion of religion.

A concerned Oak Grove R-VI School District parent reported to the national state/church watchdog dozens of distinct instances of unconstitutional religious promotion occurring within the district. The violations include scheduled Christian prayers at mandatory staff meetings, religious displays on district property and the teaching of creationism in its public school curriculum. Based on those reports, FFRF has identified six action items for the district.

It is well-settled law that public schools may not advance or endorse religion, FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover reminded the district in a Sept. 5 letter to Superintendent Bryan Thomsen.

“The Oak Grove R-VI School District has neglected its obligations to protect the religious freedom and rights of conscience of its students and faculty members under the Establishment Clause,” writes Grover.

In its letter, FFRF addresses each violation in turn and urges the district to take immediate corrective action, including to cease scheduling prayers or inviting speakers to pray at school events and to ensure that district employees stop promoting their personal religious beliefs to students.

“The sheer breadth of these violations is shocking,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The district must take immediate action to redress these widespread religious entanglements, which violate the rights of conscience of a captive audience of students and other community members.”

“Through this letter we have invited the school district to demonstrate its respect for the religious freedom of all its students by voluntarily changing its practices,” notes Grover. “Our goal is to avoid a lawsuit, which could cost the district hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members across the country, including several hundred members in Missouri. 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.