Atheists End Teacher-Led Prayer in Indiana School District

child prayer pdTERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A prominent atheist organization has convinced an Indiana school district to end teacher-led prayer at area public schools following a complaint from an anonymous parent.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) contacted the Vigo County School Corporation in Terre Haute last May after receiving a complaint from a parent after teacher Jeffrey Burress at Sarah Scott Middle School allegedly led prayer at an awards banquet.

“Any prayers led by teachers at school-sponsored events must be stopped immediately,” the letter, addressed to Superintendent Daniel Tanoos, read.

“The district should make certain that teachers in its schools are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by encouraging them to engage in prayer,” it continued. “Considering the young age of the students, concern over religious coercion and proselytization should be especially high in middle schools.”

FFRF then requested an investigation into the matter and a response outlining the measures that the district would take to ensure that teachers and staff would no longer be permitted to lead prayers at school-sponsored events.

While Tanoos said that he disagreed with FFRF, he referred the letter to attorney Charles Rubright, who responded by complying with the atheist organizations’ demands.

“The school corporation has informed each building principal that teacher-led prayer with students present will cease, as it is prohibited by the Constitution and should not be allowed,” Rubright wrote.

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Tanoos told the Tribune-Star that while teachers will not be allowed to lead prayers, he will allow voluntary student-led prayers at schools within the district.

While FFRF and other church-state separation groups have been challenging teacher-led prayers throughout the nation, others may note that religious studies were included in public schools in early America. As previously reported, the first textbook used in the nation even before its founding, The New England Primer, was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was brought to the land by the Puritans. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.

“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,” it read, in teaching children the alphabet, using Adam as an example of the letter A.

“Thy life to mend, this Book attend,” it continued for the letter B, referring to the Scriptures. “My Book and heart shall never part.”

“Christ crucified, for sinners died,” read the letter C.

In Alabama, lawmakers sought to re-introduce prayer in the classroom earlier this year, presenting a bill that would focus on teaching the formal procedures of Congress during the first class period of the day, which would include the prayer that is presented each morning by a chaplain or religious leader.

“If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t,” sponsor Steve Hurst (R-Munford) told the Anniston Star.

The bill has yet to come up for a vote in the state legislature.


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  • Renato

    This is great news!
    Congratulations to FFRF for their work.

  • Scott

    Mr. Armstrong; greetings to you. You said “Show me evidence of a supreme being. Show me evidence of a creator. Show me evidence. Show me evidence. Show me evidence.”

    What counts as evidence?

    • Mr.Armstrong

      Evidence is something that we can see, experience, test. There is no evidence of a creator, or some deity overlooking us. The bible is no more evidence than a book of Mother Goose fairy tales. Time and again we ask for evidence. For proof. And time and again you thumb your bible and say “here’s your proof”. Sorry. A book written a thousand years ago, edited countless times, translated countless times, modified to fit someone’s liking does not evidence make.

      • Scott

        Mr. Armstrong;

        Thanks for the response! Evidence is something that is interpreted by the individual based on their worldview, their starting point, their presuppositions.

        I’m certain your familiar with this statement by Carl Sagan: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”

        What is Mr. Sagan’s starting point? Is that a testable statement or more of a creed?

        You have made the statement: “There is no evidence of a creator, or some deity overlooking us.” Can you prove that?

        From “The Wittenberg Door”: “Atheists make an assertion: there is no God. The demand from a theist to an atheist to disprove God’s existence is no more unintelligible than the atheists’ demand for the theists to prove His existence.

        The Christian theist does not need to disprove the existence of mythological creatures, because they the categories of real and mythical can occur in Christian theism, and one can be certain of the non-reality of the mythological. Atheism has no means of certain knowledge.”

        I urge you to reconsider your worldview system..your beliefs. Are you consistent in your thought? Are my beliefs arbitrary? Does my worldview contain the necessary preconditions for intelligence…the basis of thought? Does my worldview get me from point A to point B without having to borrow from other systems of thought..other worldviews…to get there? It was this line of thought that brought me from atheism to Christianity some ten years ago.

        Finally..right now…with your starting point…no evidence exists that would convince you.

        Last word to you Mr. Armstrong, and I appreciate your civil tone and response. Have a great rest of the week!

        -Scott-

  • Stephen

    All these people that feel their children should be getting religious education while in public school should withdraw their children and send them to private school. School is for learning facts. Church and religion are not based on facts, but myth, legend and philosophy. This goes for every religion, Christian or not. Teach your children about God outside of school. Teach them in church. School is not the place, not even for prayer. Pray is not harmless.

  • Gus

    Public school teachers are government employees, and government employees are constrained by the U.S. Constitution from promoting, endorsing, or advancing religion while acting in their official capacities as government employees. This has been settled law for many, many decades now. How could this school district be so reckless?

  • Josey

    Don’t give in to the FFRF, they are lying and using intimidation tactics, keep the faith and keep praying. Their use of claiming this or that using the constitution is wrong. Haven’t we had enough of this?