FFRF objects to Tennessee school prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint May 26 to Giles County Director of Schools Tee Jackson in Pulaski, Tenn., objecting on behalf of district residents to sectarian prayer at kindergarten graduation May 20 at Pulaski Elementary School.

Complainants informed FFRF that a Church of Christ minister gave a prayer which ended with "in the name of Jesus Christ," and that graduation prayer seems to be a tradition because Principal Bill Holt referred in his remarks to the prayer given last year by a Methodist pastor.

In light of FFRF's previous complaints about teacher-led prayer at Pulaski Elementary, it's "extremely troubling" that it still continues, wrote Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, referring to an FFRF complaint last December that a kindergarten teacher was leading students in “Johnny Appleseed Grace,” a Christian prayer song often sung as a table blessing. After a follow-up letter in March, the district responded that Holt had made teachers aware of the complaint and that they would refrain from teaching or leading students in the song.

The new violation is particularly egregious, noted Markert in her letter. "As you must certainly know, the Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations.

"The graduating kindergarten children, as young as 5, who have previously been taught prayer by their teachers and are again subjected to religious ritual on their big graduation day cannot possibly be able to discern that the school district does not endorse the religious messages embodied in the graduation prayer."

She cited the federal court ruling in Bell v. Little Axe, which stated, "Elementary schoolchildren are vastly more impressionable than high school or university students and cannot be expected to discern nuances which indicate whether there is true neutrality toward religion on the part of a school administration."

FFRF also expressed concern that other Giles County schools are permitting graduation prayers. "Promptly inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to remedy these violations," Markert wrote. "Our local district complainants await action."

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor added, "We are shocked that the same school where we previously halted illegal prayers would host them again at kindergarten graduation with the principal in attendance. This is a terrible abuse of adult authority to proselytize a captive audience of tiny children."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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