The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is involved in a high-profile lawsuit against a West Virginia school, is spotlighting a constitutional violation occurring in a Memphis middle school.
FFRF was contacted by a concerned parent, who received an email announcing that University Middle School is “offering” its students the opportunity to take part in a weekly program called WyldLife during the school day. The email did not reference that WyldLife is a religious organization but did provide a link to WyldLife’s website for further information. The homepage describes the program as “We go to kids, build bridges of authentic friendship, and introduce them to Jesus Christ.” WyldLife (also known as Younglife for middle school-aged children) describes itself as a ministry movement targeting middle, high school, and college students. The school indicated it is “excited” to offer WyldLife, claiming it is in response to “student and parent request.” WyldLife meetings are planned for Friday flex time, which is during the school day.
It is well-settled law that public schools may not advance, prefer, or promote religion, FFRF reminds University Middle School. As the Supreme Court has recognized: “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.”
“A case decided by a Tennessee district court found that a parent prayer group that convened during the first hour of school in a partitioned area of the cafeteria separated from students and school staff violated the Establishment Clause,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman writes to Kerrith Griffin, the executive director of University Middle School. “WyldLife cannot have access to University Middle School students during the school day and the school cannot promote its meetings.”
Schoolchildren feel significant pressure to conform from their peers. They must not be subjected to similar pressure from their school and outsiders, especially on religious matters, FFRF insists.
“More than 70 years of Supreme Court precedent bars devotional religious instruction in our public schools, and describing it as ‘voluntary’ doesn’t mitigate the violation,” notes FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “University Middle School must keep school clubs secular.”
FFRF’s ongoing lawsuit against a Huntington, W. Va., school is challenging an in-school revival meeting that provoked 100 students to walk out in protest.
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with over 36,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including more than 450 members and a chapter in Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.