School district defends teacher-led prayer sessions against legal attack

UnknownA Missouri school district is being sued to stop teachers from leading Christian prayer services in the classroom.

The secular organization filing suit cited multiple complaints, according to Fox, which reported:

“The legal arm of the American Humanist Association filed a complaint Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, claiming that prayer sessions held at Fayette High School violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says the government may not establish an official religion.”

Students were not required to recite the prayers or attend the services, but that hasn’t stopped the association from taking action, saying a letter it sent to the school on behalf of student Gavin Hunt failed to resolve the matter, according to local TV station, KOMU. The group’s motto: “Good without God.”

The humanist association accuses the teacher, Gwen Pope, of urging kids to pray for sick and injured peers, arguing that merely saying, “Amen,” is a clear violation of school district rules. The district’s policy calls for teachers to show neutrality and take a “non-participatory role” during student religious gatherings, Fox News reported.

The American Humanist Association’s website, americanhumanist.org, also said:

“The lawsuit includes weekly Christian ‘devotional’ prayer sessions led by a teacher in her classroom during school hours, students being told God will punish them if they are not good. The prominent display of the book, “God’s Game Plan in a classroom during class time.

Monica Miller, the humanist association’s attorney, said the group only seeks to keep teachers from praying with students in the future, saying it was “unclear whether the teacher is participating,” according to Fox News. That assertion contradicts the group’s allegations.

“I would assume Christians would be accepting, but it actually turned out to be the opposite,” Hunt, an atheist, told KOMU. “But I’m not going to stand down. I’ve got to stand up for what I believe in.”

The school district issued a statement saying it was aware of the lawsuit, and that it would “vigorously defend against any claim that the District has taken actions which violate any person’s First Amendment rights,” KOMU reported.

The district has long supported Fellowship of Christian Students, a school group that actively leads student prayers, KOMU reported. The complaint also accuses former Principal Darren Rapert of promoting Pope’s activities.

University of Missouri law professor Carl Esbeck told Columbiatribune.com that teachers are private citizens when they are “off the clock,” adding that the court will have to determine whether the teacher was leading the prayers during work hours.
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