Alabama principal proudly violates students’ rights ‘for Jesus’

A facebook post from elmore/autaunga news and John Eklund. It has pictures of the high school prayer event. It is captioned "I told principal Fuller at Stanhope High School that I was amazed at his willingness to let us come in and talk about Jesus and Recovery in a large public high school. (exploding head emoji)!! His response? .... "I've been doing this for 26 years. If i'm gonna get in trouble it might as well be for Jesus!" This morning during two assemblies, hundreds of teenagers flooded central court to receive prayer for struggles of value and worth. A big thank you to Leslie and Tracy Boozer and the Recovery Alive team @ Shoal Creek Baptist Church for breathing life into the vision of bringing the Christ centered 12 steps into local public high schools!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that an Alabama principal be reprimanded for  permitting an evangelical speaker to foist Christianity on students.

Multiple Elmore County Schools District parents have reported to the state/church watchdog that on April 12, John Eklund, founder and CEO of “Recovery ALIVE,” was allowed to deliver a religious assembly at Stanhope Elmore High School (located in Millbrook). Complainants informed FFRF that students were called to supposedly attend a mandatory “mental health” seminar but instead they were subjected to Christian proselytizing by Eklund, who preached to students about Jesus and led them in prayer.

Recovery ALIVE is a Christian 12-step program that “prioritizes the Power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit to raise Hope From The Dead. Recovery ALIVE is an organic, living program, representing a living God,” according to its website. It “harnesses the unchanging truth of Jesus Christ and His word to a living, organic process, in order to reach and ministry to an ever-changing world.”

In a post about the assembly on Facebook, Eklund explained he “told Principal Fuller at Stanhope Elmore High School that [he] was amazed at his willingness to let [them] come in and talk about Jesus and Recovery in a large public high school.” He reported that Principal Fuller’s response was, “I’ve been doing this for 26 years. If I’m gonna get in trouble, it might as well be for Jesus!”

FFRF is asking the school district to take immediate action.

“It is unconstitutional to take away instructional time from students to expose them to religious proselytizing,” FFRF attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Richard E. Dennis. “It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion.”

In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, FFRF adds. Thus, taking students out of class to listen to a Christian message as part of the school day is in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Plus, students are a vulnerable and captive audience. Hosting a mandatory religious assembly during the school day excludes those students part of the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

FFRF takes these kinds of violations very seriously and is willing to vigorously defend students’ rights. It recently settled a lawsuit against a West Virginia school district after it similarly allowed a preacher to recruit students during the school day (Mays v. Cabell County Board of Education, 2023). As part of that settlement, the district agreed to pay FFRF nearly $175,000 in attorney fees.

The district must not coerce students to listen to inappropriate and unconstitutional Christian proselytizing in the future.

“It is an unacceptable intrusion for outside speakers to be allowed to foist their religion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The principal is heavily complicit in this.”

You can read the full FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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