The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully persuaded the Jackson County School District to reprimand a teacher and update staff training after a middle school teacher placed “prayer cards” under students’ desks.
A concerned district community member informed the state/church watchdog that a teacher at East Central Middle School had placed cards with prayers written on them underneath all of the desks in their class during the first week of school. Upon receiving this news, FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, took action to protect students from state-sponsored religious promotion.
“In order to respect the First Amendment rights of students, we ask that the district investigate this situation and ensure that [the teacher], and all other teachers, refrain from using their positions to proselytize or encourage prayer going forward,” wrote FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence to Jack C. Pickett, legal counsel for the school system.
FFRF reminded the district that students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools. When teachers use their position to push their personal religious beliefs and encourage prayer, it communicates to students and parents that they are outsiders — not full members of the political community — if they do not follow the same religious belief. Additionally, the district has an obligation to ensure that teachers are not using their positions to promote their religious beliefs.
After being informed of the constitutional violation, the district worked to bring itself back in line. Pickett detailed action that the district has taken since it received the letter. Superintendent David Baggett directed the assistant superintendent to investigate the incident.
“Upon confirmation that the conduct had occurred, the teacher in question was officially reprimanded on September 13, 2023, by the principal of East Central Middle School,” Pickett wrote. “Among other things, the letter of reprimand stressed the seriousness of the teacher’s misconduct and expressly stated that teachers are prohibited from using their positions to promote personal religious beliefs. The letter also stated any expressions of religious viewpoints in the classroom and like settings is considered a constitutional violation and must cease immediately.”
The district has additionally handed a slide show titled “Religion in our Schools” to all principals in the district to be utilized in the training of personnel.
FFRF finds the steps the district has taken to be satisfactory.
“This teacher deserved an ‘F’ for presenting her vulnerable young students with prayer cards in their first week of school,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Our public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate children in the religious faith of their teachers.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including members in Mississippi. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.