FFRF asks Tucson school district to cancel faith-based advisory committee

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted the Tucson Unified School District to express its concerns over the proposed formation of a faith-based advisory committee.

FFRF was notified by a concerned community member that the school district recently attempted to establish a “faith-based advisory committee” with the purpose of allowing religious leaders to weigh in on “TUSD initiatives, programs, policies or projects.” The committee would additionally develop an annual “Faith-Based Partnership Symposium.” The school district then announced that the formation of the committee was postponed due to concerns that the school district would be “straying from its secular and religiously neutral status.” The announcement went on to indicate, however, that the district is currently discussing next steps for the committee.

FFRF is asking for the permanent cancellation of the committee in order to respect the constitutional rights of students, parents, and local community members.

“Members of the ‘faith-based’ community are free to give their feedback and engage with the district in the same ways that all community members and organizations are able to do so,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo. “There is no need for a special committee to amplify their voices over all others.”

The district’s creation of, and partnership with, a committee consisting solely of religious leaders and organizations raises grave First Amendment concerns, FFRF emphasizes. It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to create a special partnership with religious leaders, demonstrating an unlawful preference for religion. Even if the committee includes non-Christians, it will still exclude the nonreligious and send a message favoring religion over nonreligion.

Although FFRF is encouraged that the district is listening to the community’s concerns, the district must go farther and cease the formation of the committee altogether. There is no need to give special preference and privilege to religious leaders at the expense of the nonreligious individuals, especially when 31 percent of Pima County (with Tucson as the county seat) identifies as nonreligious.

“Our public schools exist to educate, not indoctrinate,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The district should not form an official relationship with religious groups and provide special privileges and access for them within the district.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with almost 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,000 members and a chapter in Arizona. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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