FFRF ensures no more assembly prayer in Indiana school district

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has made sure that public school employees in an Indiana school district will not continue to impose prayer during school gatherings.

Back in April, a school guard at the Rise Up Academy (the alternative high school in South Bend, Ind.) delivered a prayer at a school-wide assembly. The prayer included the following: “We thank you for being the alpha and omega, the beginning and end. I want you all to say, ‘Thank God! Thank God! Amen!'” The reference to alpha and omega is taken from the New Testament’s description of Jesus in several verses and shows the prayer to be specifically Christian.

It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include prayer or to otherwise promote religion, FFRF reminded the school district.

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal school-led prayer in public schools,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to South Bend Community Schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt. “Prayer as part of an assembly at the school, hosted by the school, and during the school day certainly leads ‘an objective observer acquainted with the [prayer to] perceive it as state endorsement,’ to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.” 

Besides, religion is a divisive force in public schools and particularly inappropriate to impose on schoolchildren, given that young Americans are the least religious population in the country. Including prayers in the program isolates non-Christian and nonreligious students, sending them the message that they are outsiders in their own community, FFRF asserts.

The South Bend school district took FFRF’s complaint seriously and launched an investigation.

“The South Bend Community School Corporation has a number of policies in place prohibiting religion in the classroom and in the curriculum,” the district’s counsel said in a recent phone message. “The issue in question was a spontaneous response by an employee, not part of our curriculum. It was not planned, and we were as surprised by it as anyone else. The issue has been addressed with that employee.”

FFRF welcomes the response.

“We appreciate the explanation, and we trust this sort of thing will not happen again,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “School kids provide a captive audience for religious employees to impose their agenda, making the incident particularly unconscionable.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including 300-plus in Indiana.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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