The Freedom from Religion Foundation is sounding the alarm over an Alabama public school teacher’s promotion of a religious event.
A third grade teacher at Vestavia Hills East in Vestavia Hills, Ala., recently publicized “Bring Your Bible to School Day” to her students, bringing up the event in front of her class in the middle of the school day. FFRF wants to ensure that district staff do not advertise religious occasions to schoolchildren in the future.
“Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover writes to Vestavia Hills City Schools Superintendent Sheila Phillips. “An event designed to promote a religious text cannot be organized or endorsed by public school representatives.”
The district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Lemon v. Kurtzman case, FFRF adds. When a district teacher promotes her personal religious beliefs to students, she violates not only the Constitution, but also the trust of parents.
Religion is a divisive force in public schools, FFRF points out. The promotion of a Christian event alienates those non-Christian students, families, teachers and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message of the event being promoted, including 35 percent of young people who are not religious.
The teacher reportedly told her students that it was their “choice” to participate in Bring Your Bible to School Day and that they should ask their parents for permission. But this does not mitigate the impression of district sponsorship of the bible and Christianity that the teacher has created. Moreover, federal courts have rejected the arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.
FFRF asks that the district investigate the situation and take action to ensure that its teachers understand and respect their constitutional obligations so that this sort of incident doesn’t recur.
“Teachers should not be permitted to foist their religious beliefs on such young, impressionable children,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This sort of biblical promotion ostracizes all the non-Christian students in class and undermines parents’ ability to dictate the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with affiliates and more than 23,000 members nationwide, including a long-lasting chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.
On Election Day, please vote no on a ballot measure that would entangle the state with religious promotion.
State Question 790 carelessly proposes that the state remove Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits public money or property from being used to benefit any religious institution. Nearly every other state constitution protects religious liberty by barring direct funding of churches. State citizens should reject this gutting of their state constitution on Nov. 8!
The question the state ballot asks has been deceivingly written to suggest that a "yes" vote will simply ensure the return of the Ten Commandments monument to the Oklahoma Capitol grounds, which is disturbing in and of itself. But the vote on Nov. 8 reaches beyond this one monument, encroaching into dangerous territory where the state actively subsidizes religion.
If passed, State Question 790 threatens citizens' right to religious freedom by funneling taxpayer dollars into religious monuments, religious propaganda, private religious schooling and other state-endorsed promotion of religious doctrine.
State Question 790 undermines the constitutional protection that no citizen should be taxed to support a place of worship.
Act to preserve the wall between church and state that is guaranteed by Article 2, Section 5, as well as the U.S. Constitution. Vote NO on State Question 790 on Nov. 8! Please also use social media and timely letters to the editor to educate Oklahomans on the danger of this bill and the need to protect true religious liberty.
- Op-ed by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in the Oklahoma City paper
- State Question 790 reflects church-state tensions
- Yes or No: Oklahoma state questions explained