Ky. school district plagued with First Amendment violations

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that a Kentucky school district put an immediate end to several ongoing constitutional violations.


FFRF recently wrote to Knox County Public Schools in Barbourville, Ky., over recurring First Amendment breaches. In the past, FFRF has written to the district over flagrantly unconstitutional bible classes in the district’s elementary schools. Multiple concerns have come up since FFRF’s original letter was sent in July of this year.

Concerned parents of the district have reported to FFRF that the Knox Central High School broadcasts prayers delivered by a local pastor over the loudspeaker before football games. Attendees are instructed to stand for the typically Christian invocation.

In a recent letter sent to Knox County Public Schools Superintendent Kelly Sprinkles, FFRF warned the district that broadcasting prayer at school events is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over a loudspeaker at public school athletic events.

Additionally, the district has been operating a number of unconstitutional religious clubs. The district’s G.R. Hampton Elementary School recently formed a Christian Prayer club, the First Priority, which begins before the school day but often interferes with the first class of the day. The club also operates at Knox Central High School and the school’s Facebook page regularly posts messages encouraging students to attend the meetings. The posts feature the school name, official school mascot and typically end with “#WeAreKC.” One of these posts even instructed students to bring their bibles to school.

“See You at The Pole” prayer rallies were recently held at the same two schools and sponsored by the school’s respective First Priority clubs. The prayer rally at G.R. Hampton Elementary was promoted with fliers encouraging fifth- and sixth-grade students, faculty and staff to attend. The event at Knox Central High School was attended by at least one high school staff member

In its letter, FFRF explains to Superintendent Sprinkles that the Establishment Clause prohibits religious clubs in elementary schools because the students are too young to truly run a club entirely on their own initiative with no input from school staff or outside adults. And school employees may not legally organize a religious club for students or participate in the religious activities of their students.

“Knox County Public Schools has routinely flouted its obligations under the Establishment Clause,” writes FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara. “This is not only constitutionally impermissible, it also alienates the 45 percent of Americans born after 1987—i.e., your students—who are non-Christian.”

FFRF is requesting that the school district cease all activity that violates the Constitution and ensure that it not recur.

“Public schools have an obligation under the law to protect their students rights of conscience — and this is among the worst cases of negligence to that duty that we’ve seen,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with roughly 30,000 members and 20 chapters across the country, including nearly 250 members in Kentucky and a chapter in the state. FFRF’s 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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