FFRF warns Alabama school district to shape up

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is warning an Alabama school district to keep religious rituals out of its schools following an egregious local First Amendment violation.

FFRF wrote to Sylacauga City Schools, addressing a deeply troubling religious performance titled “BREAKTHROUGH” taking place at Nichol Lawson Middle School on Aug. 11 and at Sylacauga High School a few days later. The event included Christian music, bible verses and prayer. A concerned parent reported to FFRF that bibles were distributed to students as they entered the gym to view the performance and that the school principal and vice principal were in attendance. 

Video footage and photos of the assemblies show students kneeling before a large Latin cross at both performances. Religious organizations at the schools — the Fellowship of Christian Students, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a group called “FOCUS” — had coordinated the school event. 

In its letter to the school district, FFRF informed Superintendent Michael Todd Freeman that giving the outside groups access to proselytize to public school students is unconstitutional, and endorses the organizers’ Christian message.

“While some Christian evangelizers come as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, this wolf comes dressed as a wolf,” wrote FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line. “This event’s overtly religious and proselytizing messages were explicit. Even a cursory examination beforehand should have raised major red flags for school administrators.”

Line also noted that it is unconstitutional for public school districts to distribute bibles to students as part of the public school day.

Evangelical assemblies and bible distributions violate students’ rights of conscience and parents’ right to determine whether to indoctrinate their children. The events also needlessly subject the school district to legal liability.

FFRF is requesting immediate assurance from the district that the groups responsible for putting on the Christian performance will not be allowed to present again in the district’s schools, and that the district ensure that bibles will not be given out to students during the school day.

“The district must take swift action to certify that such school promotion of religious indoctrination does not happen again,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Administrators within the district’s schools must be reminded of their constitutional obligation to educate, not indoctrinate.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 members across the country, including members in Alabama. 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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