LAGRANGE, Ga. — An atheist group has requested an investigation into the presence of a recognized biblical creation leader and debater at a Georgia high school, where he recently spoke to students about critical thinking.
In late March, Eric Hovind, the president of the Florida-based ministry Creation Today, addressed a debate class at Troup County Comprehensive High School in LaGrange. Hovind says that his talk did not include mention of his faith or creation, but was rather a general discussion on critical thinking.
But as Hovind had engaged in a debate with a local humanist two days prior and had posted a photo of the event on social media, and since he is a born-again Christian who is known to speak against evolution, atheists became upset with school officials for allowing Hovind to address students.
The Madison, Wisc.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) soon sent a letter to the superintendent of the Troup County School System requesting an investigation into Hovind’s appearance.
“It is unconstitutional and completely inappropriate for TCCHS to host a fundamentalist Christian speaker whose sole purpose and goal is the promotion of biblical creationism,” the letter, written by staff attorney Elizabeth Cavill, read.
“It is difficult for us to understand how this presentation could have been approved,” she wrote. “Your community undoubtedly includes many people who have professional experience … to discuss ‘critical thinking’ with students interested in debate, and whose presence would not violate clear constitutional dictates.”
Cavill then remarked that it takes the promotion of religion in schools “very seriously,” noting as a threat that it had recently sued a school district in the state.
“FFRF respectfully requests that you commence an immediate investigation into these allegations and take appropriate action to avoid First Amendment violations from within your district,” she wrote.
But when the Memphis, Tenn.-based Center for Religious Expression learned of FFRF’s correspondence to the district, it likewise sent a letter to officials—to urge them not to listen to the atheist organization.
“The gist of FFRF’s argument is that Mr. Hovind cannot be allowed to speak in a public school because he holds religious views,” the letter, written by attorney Nate Kellum, read. “The suggestion that Mr. Hovind’s presence in a public school violates the establishment clause because he is a Christian is untenable.”
It reiterated that Hovind did not speak about his faith or evolution during his visit.
“FFRF’s claim that Mr. Hovind’s presentation amounts to ‘religious instruction’ is downright silly,” Kellum wrote. “His presentation did not even mention anything religious. … Indisputably, your school invited Mr. Hovind to speak on the secular topic of critical thinking, and in this context it was only appropriate for him to teach this topic referencing his own personal experiences, just like any other speaker would do in the same capacity.”
“These considerations evidence a clearly secular, and indeed laudable, purpose and not a religious one,” he continued. “In the setting of a high school debate class, allowing Mr. Hovind to discuss critical thinking was in no way a violation of the establishment clause.”
Kellum further noted opined in a press release that he found it astounding that FFRF asserted that people of faith should be “disqualified” from speaking in public schools out of assumptions about the content of their speech.
“Just like anyone else, Christians have a place in society,” he stated. “Christians cannot be banished from participation in public affairs due to their personal beliefs. ”