No Christian proselytization to schoolchildren, FFRF warns Arkansas school district

Quit imposing Christianity on elementary schoolchildren, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to an Arkansas school district.

Numerous Arkansas citizens have informed the state/church watchdog that Prescott Elementary School recently distributed New Testament Bibles to its fifth and sixth grade students. A May 4 post on the official Prescott School District Facebook page stated:

This is a sight that should make anyone happy! It sure does us! Our 5th and 6th grade students received New Testament Bibles today and were reading them at lunch and even on the bus this afternoon. God is so good!

The faculty and staff at Prescott Elementary School have also led pre-kindergarten students in prayer and encouraged them to pray. Another recent post on the official district Facebook page states:

Our sweet little PreK students praying before they eat lunch! At Prescott, we pray.

“The First Amendment of the Constitution dictates that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence writes to Prescott School District Superintendent Robert Poole. “When a public elementary school’s faculty and staff lead students in prayer, encourage students to pray, and distribute bibles to students, the district displays blatant favoritism towards Christianity and coerces elementary school students to participate in a religious exercise and accept religious literature.”

It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the distribution of bibles in classrooms during the school day, FFRF emphasizes. Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited. Additionally, bible distributions needlessly alienate and exclude those students who are a part of the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

Furthermore, public school faculty and staff may not lead their students in prayer, encourage or coerce students to pray, or participate in student-initiated prayer. The Supreme Court has continually struck down teacher or school-led prayer in public schools. These students are young, impressionable and eager to please their teachers and fit in with their peers. When fifth and sixth grade students see their peers taking and reading bibles, it is only logical that they will take one and read it to fit in; when faculty and staff lead pre-kindergarten students in prayer or encourage them to pray, students that young will no doubt take that as a command that they must obey.

It is important to note that this case is readily distinguishable from the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. In Bremerton, the court held that a high school football coach’s silent, private post-game prayer was constitutional. In stark contrast, faculty and staff at Prescott Elementary School have actively led pre-kindergarten students in prayers.

In order to protect the First Amendment rights of all Prescott Elementary School students and respect the constitutional rights of parents, the school district must ensure that Prescott Elementary’s faculty and staff cease leading students in prayer, encouraging students to pray and distributing religious literature to students, FFRF insists.

“Such a blatant foisting of sectarian religion upon a captive audience of young and impressionable schoolchildren is beyond disturbing,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It shows a complete disregard for those in the community with minority and nonreligious backgrounds — and for our secular Constitution.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members and a local chapter in Arkansas. 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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