FFRF: Michigan school religious club should stick to rules

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants a religious club at a Michigan public school to play by the rules.

A local community member informed FFRF that First Priority, a religious club that meets during lunchtime at Tri County High School in Howard City, Mich., is regularly attended or led by local pastor George Bolivion. School music teacher Allison Petriella reportedly promotes the club in her classes, encouraging students to participate, sometimes telling them they should take a club flyer because they “need Jesus.”

Teachers and other school district representatives may neither participate in student religious clubs nor talk them up during the school day, FFRF asserts. Outside adults may not lead or frequently attend such clubs.

“District employees who promote religious clubs during the school day violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” writes FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a letter to Tri County Area Schools Superintendent Allen Cumings. “The Equal Access Act, which allows the First Priority club to form, requires that ’employees or agents of the school or government are present at religious meetings only in nonparticipatory capacity.’ And school religious clubs must be bona fide student clubs that are both student-initiated and student-run.”

The presence of an outside pastor presents additional problems, FFRF contends.

“It is illegal for public schools to allow adults to lead religious instruction on school property during the school day,” writes Jayne. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a program that permitted religious instruction on the school grounds violated the Establishment Clause.”

FFRF asks the school district to investigate these concerns and ensure that in the future all student religious clubs in the district are fully in compliance with the Equal Access Act.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with 23,000 nonreligious members nationally, including more than 600 in Michigan.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend