Ban Okla. education superintendent from your schools, FFRF urges district

Headshot of Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that an Oklahoma school district forbid the state’s top education official from coming to its schools again. On Wednesday, Feb. 28, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters visited Riverside Elementary School. Before reading to the class, Walters led the students in prayer:
Dear God, thank You for these wonderful students and thank You for letting us be here today. God, I want You to please be with the state of Israel, our country, our nation, our state and our schools. Thank You so much for the opportunity to be here with these wonderful students today. Amen.

FFRF is asking Riverside School District Superintendent Lisa Derryberry to not allow Superintendent Walters to address her students ever again due to all the constitutional concerns his prayerful opening has raised.

“Students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Derryberry. “It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion. The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, even if student-led.”

Here, FFRF emphasizes, Walters’ prayer violated the First Amendment rights of all students in attendance and displayed clear favoritism towards religion over nonreligion. Riverside serves a diverse population with diverse religious beliefs, including non-Christians, atheists and agnostics. As much as 37 percent of the American population is non-Christian, including the almost 30 percent who are nonreligious.

In order to comply with the Constitution, the Riverside School District must ensure that Superintendent Walters and other guests at the school will not be given the opportunity to pray with students in the future, FFRF is insisting. “Superintendent Walters is engaging in political posturing at the expense of little children,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “He shouldn’t be permitted to reprise such religious theatrics.”

FFRF Action Fund has recently signed a letter along with dozens of other prominent national and Oklahoma-based organizations asking the state Legislature to fire Walters due to his behavior before and after the violent death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Oklahoma. 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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