Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Georgia on our mind

Vol. 36 No. 04 May 2019

At Peach County Schools in Georgia, administrators have pledged to educate coaches on expectations regarding First Amendment requirements, thanks to a letter from FFRF.

A local resident reported that the Peach County High School football coach had been praying with his team. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district to object to this unconstitutional school-sponsored prayer and ask that the district interfere to stop this practice.

The district’s counsel responded to FFRF’s complaint with assurances that the superintendent of the district “intends to meet with high school personnel, including all coaches, to discuss issues related to the First Amendment, including the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause.” The district also noted that it is “confident that all of its schools make good faith efforts to fully comply with the requirements of the Constitution and protect the rights of all parties.”

Scheduled prayer ends

Scheduled prayer has ceased at Lowndes County (Ga.) School Board meetings after persistent pressure from FFRF.

A concerned Lowndes County Schools parents first reported more than a year ago that the Lowndes County Board of Education begins all of its meetings with a scheduled prayer. FFRF stepped in to remind the district that it is beyond the scope of a school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings.

“Calling upon board members, parents, students and members of the public to pray is unconstitutional,” wrote Line. “It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do.”

After diligent follow-up with the district, the complainant has informed FFRF that the agenda no longer shows scheduled prayer for the school board meetings.

Baccalaureate removed

A concerned Henry County (Ga.) Schools employee reported that Union Grove High School organizes, endorses and advertises a baccalaureate for its seniors each year. Faculty members reportedly often speak at the event and met with students during the school day to organize it. The event was advertised on both the school’s website and on a calendar of senior events.

Line wrote to the district, expressing FFRF’s constitutional concerns about the public school-sponsored baccalaureate programs.

“The district’s role in advertising and promoting these baccalaureate programs, along with official teacher and administrator participation in organizing these events, would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services,” Line wrote in his letter to Superintendent of Henry County Schools Mary Elizabeth Davis.

The district’s legal representation discussed the issues with school officials and the event has been removed from the list of senior events for graduation.