FFRF challenges Ala. school district’s numerous breaches


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is raising objections to multiple constitutional violations that have been occurring in an Alabama school system.

FFRF has in recent months received many complaints from several local residents about Jefferson County Schools, based in and around Birmingham.

A resident reported that until very recently Hueytown High included a “class chaplain” position on its student council, whose duties were described as “responsible for devotional or inspirational messages at meetings, programs, banquets, and graduation.” This position was initially eliminated for the Class of 2018, but after backlash from parents, it was reinstated with a new name: “class inspirational speaker.” The duties of this position apparently remain the same, which is constitutionally problematic.

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to the Jefferson County Schools’ legal counsel. “School officials may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member, or clergy to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a public high school graduation.” 

It makes no difference how many students want prayer at school events. As the U.S. Supreme Court has said: “Fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” With prayers at graduation and other school-sponsored events, the district violates its neutrality toward religion and alienates the 35 percent of young Americans who are not religious.

A concerned parent has also informed FFRF that Nichole Hill, choral director at Pleasant Grove High School, makes proselytizing religious statements each year during the spring concert. During this year’s concert, she prayed: “It’s only by His blood are we healed. It’s only by His one are we one, by His blood. He is everything. Thank you for praising and worshipping with us tonight.”

It is wholly inappropriate for a public school teacher to include prayer and religious remarks at a public school choral concert, FFRF reminds the school district. The district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” to again quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

It has also been reported that the Hueytown Middle School Cheerleaders sold religious T-shirts to raise money for cheer camp. These shirts said: “BE FEARLESS, 2 TIMOTHY 1:7.”

It is illegal for school-run group to raise funds by selling shirts decorated with New Testament bible verses, FFRF points out. Public schools must remain neutral on matters of religion. Publishing a bible verse on shirts that are sold to raise money for the school impermissibly entangles the school and district with a religious point of view, violating the principle that state and church must remain separate. Even if students selected the bible verse, or if school employees did not physically sell the shirts, such activity is illegal. Schools must avoid even the appearance of religious endorsement.

FFRF asks that the school district take immediate action to rectify these constitutional infringements so that school-sponsored prayers and religious messages do not recur at future school functions.

“There are lots of constitutional violations in the Jefferson County Schools system that officials seem to be turning a blind eye toward,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This is completely unacceptable.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members across the country, including in Alabama. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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