FFRF urges Va. district to end incessant proselytization throughout schools

screenshot of a social media post featuring students at a public school prayer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling out Caroline County Public Schools for multiple constitutional violations that involve repeated religious entanglement.

Most school events within the district reportedly begin with Christian prayers, including athletic events and school board meetings. On Feb. 12, for instance, the school board meeting started with an invocation led by board member JoWanda Rollins-Fells, who asked all attendees to stand and participate in a Christian prayer delivered in the name of “Lord God.”

And FFRF is aware of several similarly unconstitutional incidents going back to at least August 2023.

One teacher from Caroline Middle School has posted on Facebook confirming that some staff and faculty meetings include a Christian prayer, such as on Aug. 11 of last year:

It’s a blessing to be a part of a public school that keeps God at its core and that I am able to pray with my co-workers.

A teacher was allowed to initiate, lead and organize a Christian club for students at the same school. According to a Sept. 27, 2023, post from another teacher at the same school, the goal of the adult-run Christian club, known as the 180 Club, is to proselytize and convert public middle school students to Christianity:

I am so honored and blessed to be able to spread the Love of Jesus Christ at CAROLINE MIDDLE SCHOOL I am so grateful for all of the kids that joined our club the one and only Club 180!! I am overwhelmed with Joy to witness and be a part of such a ministry!! Thank you to our wonderful principal for allowing this type of club in our school!! Thank You [organizing teacher] for all of your thoughts and preparations to make this all happen. … I pray that by the end of the school year we have some new souls added to the Kingdom. This is Monumental y’all !! We have Church at school now. Thank You Lord for All the Great Things You’ve Done.

Further posts confirm that the 180 Club leads middle school children in Christian worship and prayer after school on school property. Caroline Middle School also permitted a guest speaker to share religious testimony with the students at the club. Additionally, the club apparently distributed bibles to students.

Please comply with the First Amendment of the Constitution and protect the religious freedom of students, FFRF is insisting to the school district.

“The religious favoritism and coercion occurring within the district and school board meetings is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are not Christians, including those who don’t subscribe to any religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes to the district and school board.

Public school students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their schools, including when participating in school-sponsored events. By opening school-sponsored events with Christian prayer, the district has violated the First Amendment.

FFRF also asserts that it is unconstitutional for a public school board to open meetings with prayer. FFRF cites one of its successful lawsuits against such practices, in which the violative school district was ordered to pay more than $275,000 in attorney fees and costs.

Finally, the district may not legally allow adults to lead, organize, or regularly participate in “student” religious clubs at Caroline Middle School or any of the district’s other secondary schools. The Equal Access Act dictates the limited extent to which religious clubs may exist in public secondary schools. All religious student clubs must be bona fide student clubs that are student-initiated, student-led and student-organized. In this case, it is clear that the 180 Club at the middle school was initiated by a teacher and is currently led and organized by said teacher. As the club is not legitimately student-initiated, run or organized, it must be disbanded.

The district and board’s pervasive promotion of Christianity is inappropriate and needlessly alienates students, families and employees who are part of the 37 percent of Americans that is non-Christian. Additionally, at least a third of Generation Z have no religion, with a recent survey revealing that almost half of Gen Z qualify as religiously unaffiliated “Nones.”

FFRF is urging the district to remove religious entanglement in all areas, by ending prayer at school-sponsored events and board meetings and disbanding the teacher-led religious club.

“The lengths the district has gone to proselytize shows how necessary the First Amendment is,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students are being religiously indoctrinated wherever they turn in Caroline County Public Schools, and we cannot let this continue to happen.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members across the country, including close to 1,000 members in Virginia. Our 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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