A Kentucky school district has several state/church problems

fca doorway.jpg-2The Freedom From Religion Foundation is voicing its concern to a Kentucky school district over several possible violations in its schools of the separation of state and church.

Okolona Elementary School in Louisville has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes student club sponsored by teacher Ashley Pearson. Also, the school art teacher, Mary Smith, showed a video last November in class of “Amazing Grace” that featured the Christian hymn in multiple languages and several images of Latin crosses. Additionally, a door at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in the same town has multiple crosses, a portrait of Jesus and the words “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” on the outside. Finally, a teacher at Fern Creek High School, also in Louisville, told students at a health class that an important aspect of health is “spiritual health” defined as “the practice of a religion or guided by faith which gives you purpose,” with students being asked to write the following description of spiritual health: “an awareness of one’s purpose in life and a higher power that gives us direction, peace and joy.”

All of these raise important issues, FFRF contends.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes in a letter to Donna Hargens, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools. “Elementary schools remain in a pre-Equal Access Act state of the law, where teacher-run religious clubs are impermissible. … This makes sense because elementary school students are not old enough to organize and run their own clubs and are not mature enough to appreciate the nuanced distinction between a teacher acting as a school official and a teacher acting as a private sponsor of a religious club.” 

The school district’s display of Christian symbols is also illegal.

“Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools,” writes Jayne. “Please instruct Smith that she may not show movies promoting Christianity, and ensure that the religious iconography in Ridge Park High School is removed, as well as the accompanying religious text and portrait of Jesus.”

The health class incident at Fern Creek High School is problematic, too.

“It is unconstitutional for the district to tell students that they will be healthier if they engage in ‘the practice of religion,’ are ‘guided by faith,’ or seek direction from a ‘higher power,'” Jayne writes. “The district may not advise students to adopt religious beliefs or practices.”

FFRF is asking the district to investigate and to ensure that the reported violations do not recur.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an organization dedicated to the separation of state and church with 23,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 200 in Kentucky.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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