S.C. school district is violating Constitution multiple times, charges FFRF

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that the superintendent of a South Carolina school district investigate multiple constitutional violations occurring throughout the school system.

A concerned Union County Schools community member has informed the state/church watchdog about several such violations. The district allowed Ken Freeman, a Christian motivational speaker, to hold an assembly in the gym during school hours last semester, where he was allowed to speak about God and invite students to attend his religious revival providing “FREE Pizza and drinks.” Teachers and staff members in the district are also seemingly actively involved in running and promoting Good News Clubs at several district schools. And high school football games in the district begin with a prayer broadcast over the loudspeaker.

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Superintendent Joey L. Haney. “Yet, favoritism and coercion are exactly what a public school district accomplishes when it allows Christian evangelists to recruit children in its school, allows teachers to use their influence to convince students to join and participate in religious Good News Clubs, and opens school-sponsored events with prayer over the loudspeaker.”

Permitting a religious speaker such as Ken Freeman even one-time access to preach to students and attempt to convert them to his own religious beliefs violates the Establishment Clause and students’ rights to be free from indoctrination within their own public schools. Freeman even states on his website that he will do “whatever it takes” to “reach lost people.” Freeman’s religious message delivered during the school day demonstrates an unlawful preference for religion over nonreligion and, specifically, Christianity over all other faiths. And it needlessly alienates district members belonging to the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the nearly 30 percent who are nonreligious. In fact, among Generation Z, more than a third identify as religiously unaffiliated.

Additionally, it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for public schools to allow teachers to organize, lead or encourage student participation in a religious club, or to use school resources to promote participation in a religious organization renting school facilities. Even if the clubs are properly renting district schools for their meetings, schools and teachers cannot promote these religious clubs or allow the clubs to use school resources to promote themselves.

Finally, the Supreme Court has specifically struck down prayers given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events, even when student-led, FFRF adds. The court has said that prayers at a “regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property” would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state advancement of religion. Not only is the district showing favoritism towards religion and coercing participation in these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of games, it is also providing the prayer-giver with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on students and community members at school events.

Union County Schools must immediately commence an investigation into the mentioned complaints, FFRF demands. The district needs to ensure that these constitutional violations cease at once.

FFRF is currently in the midst of a federal court challenge against a school board in West Virginia that has also mixed school and religion, as well as allowing a Christian revival.

“Public schools exist to educate, not indoctrinate,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Union County School officials need to respect freedom of conscience and quit trying to proselytize a captive audience of young students in violation of constitutional law.”

You can read the entire FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members nationwide, including hundreds of members in South Carolina. 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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