BEAUMONT – A school district in Texas is investigating a complaint after a mother who identifies as a Christian contacted a prominent atheist activist organization to express concerns over a prayer offered during a pre-k graduation ceremony.
The Beaumont Independent School District has confirmed that it received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which claims that a prayer recently offered by a student during the event violates the United States Constitution.
On May 31st, a pre-k teacher at Amelia Elementary School conducted a graduation ceremony for her class, and had a student begin the event with an invocation.
“The little girl said something like, ‘Thank you God for this day. Bless us all. In Jesus’ name, Amen,” the teacher, who is not being identified, told local television station KBMT.
However, one of the parents that was in the room, Amber Barnhill, later approached the teacher about the prayer, explaining that it had no place in a public school. She told reporters that she took offense at the teacher’s response.
“She said it was legal, freedom of speech. It was not religion, but her way of life,” Barnhill explained. “She continually said she could not allow herself to apologize.”
But the teacher says that she did apologize.
“I didn’t intend to impose. I just tried to mock a graduation,” she explained. “I did apologize to the lady who was the only one that I found that was offended.”
“They’re four year olds. They’re not old enough to discern religion,” Barnhill told 12News. “[Prayer in the classroom] is illegal. It has been for over four decades.”
“I expect acknowledgement and accountability, and assurance that this is not going to be something that continues,” she added.
The teacher says that she will not have prayer at future events.
As previously reported, FFRF also recently contacted school officials in Lindale, Texas after a parent complained about the explicitly religious content of a play being performed by approximately 60 5th graders from EJ Moss Intermediate School.
“What you have heard today helps to explain why the founding fathers of our nation believed and trusted in God,” the students were to recite. “The people that struggled and fought to establish this nation did so because of a dream. That dream was to have a place where they could freely proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“If these allegations are true, this program is an egregious violation of the First Amendment and should be canceled immediately. It is illegal for a public school to compel students to participate in religious expression,” the letter from FFRF stated. “This is compounded by the fact that the children, as fifth graders, are very young. The performance has a clearly devotional and proselytizing message and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, not in a public school.”
After an edited version of the musical was performed, a local pastor rented space at the Lindale Performing Arts Center so that the production could be presented in full as originally planned. Over 2,000 area residents attended the event, which overflowed into the front yard of the Center.