Stop religious untruths about COVID-19, FFRF urges Ky. District

Covid 19 Prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is telling a Kentucky school system to halt the spread of religious misinformation regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

A concerned student contacted FFRF to report that a Bell County High School teacher recently preached to his students about God and the coronavirus. The teacher reportedly told his class that “coronavirus is in God’s hands,” that students would have to pray if they want the virus to go away, and that if students have a problem with him telling them to pray they could go to the school board because he does not care.

Public school teachers may not lead their students in prayer, encourage students to pray, or otherwise endorse religion to students, FFRF contends. (The school system is shut down at this time.)

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down teacher or school-led prayer in public schools,” FFRF Legal Fellow Dante CH Harootunian writes to Bell County Schools Acting Superintendent Tom Gambrel. “The Supreme Court has recognized that ‘families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family.’”

FFRF emphasizes that it isn’t a violation of the free speech rights of teachers when a school district regulates what they teach to students while acting in their official capacities — especially on a life-and-death issue such as the coronavirus scourge. Teachers have access to a captive audience of students due to their position as public educators. Therefore, the school district has a duty to regulate religious proselytizing during school-sponsored activities.

FFRF points out that directing students to pray will not equip them with the knowledge they need to stay healthy. School districts should instead be guiding students to wash their hands, avoid large gatherings and take other steps known to protect against the spread of disease until the pandemic is over. The Bell County High School teacher’s fabrications will be to the detriment of such common-sense steps.

“Such irresponsible religious messaging is rank dereliction at a time like this,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Thanks to this teacher, a number of students have gone home with information that’s encouraging them to engage in unhealthy and potentially dangerous behavior.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members in Kentucky, and a local chapter, FFRF Kentucky. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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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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