The Freedom From Religion Foundation has expressed concern about a religion-infused event at a public elementary school in Arkansas.
On Feb. 19, a new fitness trail was inaugurated at Cooper Elementary School. Staff members, including the school's principal and vice principal, were in attendance, as were the school district's assistant superintendent and a board member. A nun from Mercy Health, a co-sponsor of the trail, began the event, while another representative from the organization led the crowd in prayer, asking the schoolchildren to join in.
The prayer started with the representative preaching and reading from the bible. He then asked everyone, including the children, to raise their hands to ask for God's blessing for the new trail. The adults, including the school officials, participated. Then, the nun sprinkled holy water.
"It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include religious activities," says Patrick Elliot in his Feb. 23 letter, prompted by a concerned local parent, to lawyers for Bentonville Public Schools. "Even when outside the typical school environment, the Supreme Court has found prayers taking place at school-sponsored events unconstitutional."
Parents shouldn't be worried that by sending their children to a public school, they are possibly subjecting them to lengthy Christian religious ritual, replete with prayer, bible reading and holy water, Elliott adds. By including prayers at school-sponsored events, Bentonville Public Schools abandons its duty to remain neutral toward religion and alienates the approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population that is not Christian.
FFRF is asking Bentonville Public Schools to make certain that such religiosity is not repeated at future school events and that school officials inform it in writing of steps taken to ensure this.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog group with more than 23,000 members, including in Arkansas.