FFRF frees Tenn. schoolkids from coercive religious handouts

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully persuaded Tennessee’s Sweetwater school district to restrict access to one church group from distributing religious materials.

A concerned parent informed FFRF that four adults — including teachers — were handing out red, pocket-sized versions of the New Testament on May 9 as their student entered Brown Intermediate School in Sweetwater, Tenn. And the complainant also reported that the school sent out a flier on May 15 advertising a local vacation bible school to parents.

“The district cannot allow its schools to be used as recruiting grounds for religious missions,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Hirsh M. Joshi wrote to the Sweetwater City School System.

Uniquely, the district had its own employees distribute the New Testament, adding to the coercive effect for students. Nonreligious students were dealt a dilemma: Either they had to take a bible — offending their conscience — or refuse, jeopardizing their standing with adults who run school resources. That ultimatum is precisely what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guards against. Religious literature distributions needlessly alienates all students and families, such as FFRF’s complainant and their child. A full 37 percent of the American population is non-Christian, including the almost 30 percent that is nonreligious. Additionally, at least a third of Generation Z (those born after 1996) has no religion, with a recent survey revealing that almost half of Gen Z qualifies as religiously unaffiliated “Nones.”

After FFRF notified the district of the violation, the district investigated the matter — and agreed with FFRF.

District Director Rodney Boruff emailed FFRF with the information that despite district policy requiring that all fliers and posters be approved by him before distribution, the vacation bible school flier was never sent to him in this situation. Boruff also told FFRF that the group supplying the New Testaments and the bible fliers will no longer be welcome.

FFRF is pleased to see the First Amendment win out over religious indoctrination attempts.

“Religious organizations should never get special treatment just for being religious,” adds Joshi. “Today’s win makes sure of that.”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor agrees.

“The Sweetwater City School System ought to know better than allowing a religious group free access to students during the day,” she says. “School districts exist to educate, not indoctrinate into religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Tennessee, and works as a state/church watchdog to safeguard the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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