Children led in illegal prayer in Florida elementary school

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent a letter on behalf of local complainants, to Superintendent Ben Wortham of Clay County School District (Fla.) urging him to cease an unusually egregious violation of state/church separation, a weekly "Prayer Around the Flagpole" event at Clay Hill Elementary School.

FFRF, a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., is the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics with more than 17,000 members, including over 800 in Florida.

The principal advertised the weekly prayer in the September newsletter: “The event takes place every Monday at 8:15 at the flag pole next to the office and is sponsored by our area Pastors… Our pray around the school's flagpole event is to pray for the nation, for each other, and for the school."

Each week an area pastor sponsors "Prayer Around the Flagpole" preaching the Christian message.

The school newsletter quotes Pastor Steven Andrew saying, "Our children need God back in schools…The First Amendment was for Christianity, not other religions." Davis wrote that Andrew is calling Christians nation wide to bring back the Holy Bible and Christian prayer to schools.

The program is especially concerning given the young age of all the elementary school-aged students being solicited by their principal to attend devotions. Andrew is quoted saying, "The First Amendment says, 'Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise of [Christian] religion…' Our Founding Fathers fought for God's unalienable rights of Christian life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom comes from obeying God. Let's get active to bring back the Holy Bible and Christian prayer to schools." Davis claimed,"Our prayer around the flagpole gatherings are permissible because they are community led and take place outside of class time."

"Despite Davis' disclaimer that this is permissible, the unabashed promotion of the event in the school newsletter and the repeated use of the possessive 'our' would lead any reasonable observer to infer that the event is directly sponsored by Clay Hill Elementary and the School District of Clay County. It is grossly inappropriate for principals, teachers, other public school employees, or outside adults to actively participate in or promote student – run religious organizations and activities," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt.

FFRF said the brazen and shameless historical and factual errors stated in the newsletter are highly concerning.

"That a faculty member of an elementary school – a principal, no less – would attempt to pass such egregiously false information off as fact displays an utter lack of respect for the school environment and the education of the hundreds of children entrusted to his care," added Schmitt. "All students are equal under the law. The principal’s promotion of Pastor Andrew’s bigoted and ignorant remarks raises serious concerns about his professionalism."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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