FFRF demands Pa. school district end partnership with local church

Canton Area School District

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that the Canton Area School District immediately end its partnership with a local church.

FFRF received a complaint from a concerned member of the school district who reported that assemblies at Canton High School have been regularly opened with a Christian prayer led by a local pastor. Students have reported feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome at their school due to this practice, and when their concerns have been voiced, teachers have ignored their complaints. 

“We write to request that the district cease its partnership with local churches, and refrain from opening assemblies with prayer in the future,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant writes in a letter to Superintendent Amy Martell.

FFRF points out that the school is clearly violating the First Amendment rights of students by showing support for Christianity and coercing students into participating in prayers. By allowing a local pastor to open assemblies with a prayer, the school district is showing a favoritism for religion over nonreligion —  and specifically for the Christian religion. Additionally, this practice is coercive towards students, as it presents a choice with no positive outcome: Either students participate in a prayer that excludes their belief or nonbelief, or they do not attend a mandatory assembly and risk punishment for skipping a school-sponsored event. 

When the school allows a religious leader even one-time access to students, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is violated. As publicly funded entities, school districts are strictly prohibited from endorsing or showing favoritism towards any religion. Indeed, public schools are intended to be secular, inclusive institutions — not indoctrination facilities. 

FFRF is immediately demanding the end to the practice of open prayer before assemblies held during school hours on school grounds in the Canton Area School District in order to respect the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“A public high school is no place for a local pastor to be preaching to a captive audience,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The freedom of conscience of every student needs to be respected, which the district is disregarding time and time again. A public school should be welcoming to all students — and this practice has to change immediately.”

You can read FFRF’s entire letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,100 members and a chapter in Pennsylvania. Its 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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