FFRF puts Mississippi school district on secular course

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that students won’t be under the threat of proselytization in Mississippi’s Covington County School District.

A concerned district parent informed FFRF that a teacher at Seminary Elementary scheduled in late March a religious assignment for first grade students. The assignment was a coloring page of an Easter egg split into six sections with a different color assigned to each section, with every color containing a supposed religious meaning. The first color, yellow, “represents God’s perfect light,” red “represents the blood Jesus shed for us,” white “represents the cleansings of our sins,” green “represents the new life we have in Jesus,” and blue “represents the baptism that identifies us with Jesus.”

FFRF’s complainant reported frequently having to counteract religion that their child was fed in school. FFRF wrote to the district to stop such assignments from being given out, and to make certain that teachers at the school and all other schools in the district understood their constitutional duty to respect the religious rights of students.

“Using a religious holiday, Easter, as a pretext to teach religious lessons in a public school is unconstitutional,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to Superintendent Babette Duty.

Giving students the choice of opting out of the assignment did not redress the constitutional concern, FFRF emphasized. Teachers may not promote concepts like “cleansing of sin” and “new life in Jesus” to students, regardless of how many students share those beliefs. Furthermore, assigning sectarian classwork places non-Christian students and families in an unfair position; either they must out themselves as nonbelievers or comply, against their sincerely held beliefs. That is unfair and the exact ultimatum the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause guards against. Students who participate in an alternative assignment are outcast as “different” or “other,” through no fault of their own.

Thankfully, students’ rights came out on top due to the FFRF’s efforts.

Duty wrote back to FFRF confirming the assignment was never given out and stating: “The principal has been briefed and in turn shared with her staff the requirements of the Establishment Clause and their responsibilities as employees in a public school in regards to the law.”

FFRF is glad to have been able to get a school district back on the secular path.

“Elementary-school children are truly a vulnerable captive audience,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “A classroom teacher wields immense authority as an official representative of the district — and this was a clear abuse of power. Every family deserves to know that their children won’t be preached at during school hours.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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