FFRF ends unconstitutional kindergarten class prayer in Miss.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that kindergarten students in the Newton County School District in Decatur, Miss., will no longer be led in daily prayer by their teacher, in violation of more than a half-century of court precedent.

A concerned parent informed the state/church watchdog that their child’s kindergarten teacher at Newton County Elementary School had been leading the class in reciting a Christian prayer before meals each day. Additionally, in late November, the teacher taught kindergarten students that God has a naughty and nice list, just like Santa Claus, and that students have to be good in order to stay on God’s nice list. FFRF’s complainant told the organization that they were “very angry and disturbed that someone in an authoritative position over 5-year olds was pushing [their] own thoughts and beliefs on [kindergarteners] as truth.”

FFRF took swift action to protect children’s rights.

“The district has an obligation to ensure that its teachers are not misusing their positions to indoctrinate students,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to the district.

Students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, FFRF emphasized. When a kindergarten teacher abuses their position to coerce young students to pray and promotes their personal religious beliefs in the classroom, that teacher violates students’ First Amendment right to freedom of conscience. Additionally, parents have the constitutional right to determine their child’s religious or nonreligious upbringing. This teacher violated the trust that FFRF’s complainant and all other parents place in district teachers to follow the Constitution and refrain from imposing their own religious beliefs on children they teach.

After the state/church watchdog sent a demand letter, the district rectified its error.

“We assure you that steps are being taken to prevent incidents described in your letter in the future,” Superintendent Tyler C. Hansford wrote back. “Our district remains committed to upholding the constitutional rights of all of our students, fostering an atmosphere of inclusivity, and respecting the diverse beliefs within our community.”

FFRF is always pleased when a district is willing to learn from its mistakes.

“School districts exist to educate, not indoctrinate students into religion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Kindergartners are the ultimate captive audience, and it was imperative that this damaging religious predation was halted.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including members in Mississippi. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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