FFRF’s Letter To Rhea County Schools

Sue Porter
Superintendent, Rhea County Schools
250 California Ave.
Dayton TN 37321

Dear Superintendent Porter,

We are writing to you on behalf of a family which has children in the Rhea County School system, and on behalf of members of our organization who live in your area who honor the American principle of keeping state and church separate.

The family is complaining about pervasive religious influence in your schools, and about what appears to be school endorsement of such practices, which include: Bible study in the classroom, conducted during school hours by an outside group of fundamentalist Christians from Bryan College; members of the Gideon Society permitted to distribute Bibles in the classrooms; morning Bible reading over the intercom followed by a moment of silence; overtly religious messages displayed by some teachers on the walls and doors of their classrooms.

All of these practices are illegal, under prevailing U.S. Supreme Court rulings. According to McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948), religious instruction in the public schools is unconstitutional. The distributing of Gideon Bibles was struck down in Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954), and reaffirmed in Berger v. Rensselaer, 982 F.2d, 1160 (7th Cir.) cert. denied, 124 L.E. 2d 254 (1993). A moment of silence with religious intent was halted as unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 72 (1985). Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools because they are religious.

The Tennessee Constitution states that: “. . . no human authority can, in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” (Article I, Declaration of Rights) This precludes your schools from endorsing, or appearing to endorse the Christian religion over other religions, or religion over nonreligion.

The family that is complaining, which is not raising its children in any biblical faith, wants to remain anonymous at this time, out of the fear of possible reprisal from a predominantly sectarian community. But they feel they must complain to you about the indignity that their children (as young as kindergarten!) experience while being forced to sit through the indoctrination of someone else’s religion in their own public school system.

Religion is a matter of individual conscience. Rhea County believers are free to worship at the church of their choice, to pray, read the bible, and teach sectarian values to their children; but Rhea County public schools should remain strictly neutral on these matters, treating no student as second class, respecting the freedom of all viewpoints.

We and the complainants are seeking your assurance that these religious practices have been or will be immediately discontinued. This would provide you a singular opportunity to give your students an object lesson in civics, championing the American principle of “E pluribus unum” and respecting the law of the land.

If we do not receive such an assurance, we will continue to challenge these blatantly illegal practices.

May we hear from you at your earliest convenience on this serious matter?

PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701

Dan Barker

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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