Indiana School District Ends Prayer During School Programs Following Complaint From Atheist Activists

Photo Credit: Zelman Menash

NORTH VERNON, Ind. — An Indiana school district has discontinued all invocations during school programs following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the superintendent of Jennings County Schools to request that prayer be kept out of district-sponsored events.

It advised that a complainant, who was not named, informed them that students had delivered prayer at the 2014 and 2015 academic honors dinner, and that prayer is also a part of district graduation ceremonies.

“It is unconstitutional for Jennings County Schools to schedule, approve or otherwise endorse prayers or other religious messages,” the letter read. “A prayer taking place at a ‘regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property’ would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion.”

“It makes no difference how many students want prayer or would not be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony,” it continued. “The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 35% of young Americans who are not religious.”

According to FFRF, the district resisted for some time, but due to follow-up letters, it now has advised that prayer will no longer be a part of school programs.

“Please be advised that Jennings County School Corporation will no longer incorporate prayer as an official aspect of any program,” the response, written by attorney Murielle Bright, simply stated.

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FFRF applauded the outcome.

“We’re pleased that the district realized the importance of not violating constitutional boundaries or turning nonbelievers into outsiders at their graduation,” Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “We’re confident that it won’t be incorporating prayer in its graduation ceremony from now onward.”

John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister who was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, said in 1778, “[H]e is the best friend to American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.”

“God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both,” he said.


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  • Trilemma

    Technically, the FFRF is correct. Technically, the school did the right thing. What concerns me is that there seems to be an increasing inability of Americans to get along with each other. Back when I was an atheist, it didn’t bother me to listen to a prayer at a school sponsored event. I didn’t think it was governmental endorsement of a particular religion. I knew the prayer was for the believers and not for me. It wasn’t all about me so if the majority of the people wanted a prayer said at the event then it was fine with me.

    • Oboehner

      Technically, we shouldn’t have government schools.

      • Trilemma

        Why not?

        • Oboehner

          It breeds nothing but stagnation, think about this, what has a governmental bureaucracy ever done that amounted to anything worthwhile?

          Then there’s this: Communist Manifesto Plank 10 – “Free Education for All Children in Public Schools.”

          • Trilemma

            Public schools were working just fine until the federal government got involved. Now schools just teach to do well on standardized tests and to be politically correct.

          • Oboehner

            And miserably fail at the “do well” part.

          • Tangent002

            Both of my sons attended public schools and they are doing just fine.

          • Ambulance Chaser

            So did I. Public schools from kindergarten up through law school.

          • Polish Bear

            It shows.

          • Ambulance Chaser

            Thanks 🙂

          • Trilemma

            That’s good to hear. However, there are many articles about the declining college readiness of high school students because of standardized testing and common core.

          • Tangent002

            I’m not a big fan of standardized testing.

  • Robert

    Student initiated prayer is legal in public schools.

    • Tangent002

      Among one another, not in the context of an assembly.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      I’m sorry, was that English?

  • Faithwalker

    When laws are enacted based on people’s perceived personal perceptions..well… then the slippery slope will eventually evolve itself into a form of facism.

  • Robert

    I have real doubts that this same atheist group goes into Islamic communities and makes trouble for them.

    • Croquet_Player

      If you have a complaint about prayer, from any faith, at official school public functions, you are encouraged to notify the FFRF.

    • Tangent002

      Where are there ‘Islamic communities’ in the United States?

      • Roy Hobs

        Did you just crawl out from under a rock?

    • Ambulance Chaser

      Do you have any evidence of this, or just your “real doubts?” In fact, do you have any evidence that any school is violating the Establishment Clause in any Islamic community?

  • Robert

    Just Google news max 5 public schools that have installed Islamic prayer rooms … makes us wonder where is this atheists group law suit about that.?

    • Croquet_Player

      Because students, of any faith, may pray at school. If a school has a number of Muslim students, they may, at their discretion, set aside an area for them to pray. There is no violation of law when a student prays at school, unless they are disrupting class. Teachers may neither encourage not discourage student prayer. In this case the school was putting prayers in official school activities as part of the program, which is a violation of the law.

      • Roy Hobs

        As of right now — this comment has been upvoted 5 times and this is a Christian site. As I said — “Parasitic in nature”.

        • Croquet_Player

          What makes you think some Christians don’t fully understand how prayer in public school works? Schools remain neutral, and students may pray or not, as they wish. It’s an ideal solution, and the only ones trying to change it have an agenda to push their own particular version of religion upon students in schools. Indeed it should be obvious that there are many hundreds of denominations under the umbrella of “Christianity”, some with widely divergent viewpoints. And some parents and/or students might not appreciate the version their teacher subscribes to. How would you like it if your child came home one day with a radically different version of the religion you were trying to impart to them at home and in church? “But it’s what my teacher taught me.” I don’t think you would care for that one bit.

          • Roy Hobs

            Do you consider yourself a follower of Christ?

          • Croquet_Player

            Not like you.

          • Roy Hobs

            I always find it fascinating, and illuminating that two people can read the same book (s) and have two completely different understandings of “who” Jesus is. That doesn’t make the book unreliable…..it only confirms it’s message. Someone is deceived — you or I. It is my opinion that you are on the broad road which leads to destruction. But somehow I don’t think you care. Find J.C. Ryle’s sermon on the Broad Road. Meditate on it’s message.

          • Croquet_Player

            I would suggest that you consider the realities involved in having organized prayer in public schools. Which faith(s)? Whose prayers? What versions? Who is “authorized” to determine what is official school doctrine? Who gets included, and who is ostracized? It would be an untenable mess, subject to endless lawsuits and arguments. As it stands now, parents who wish to teach their children their own religious views have multiple options. They may send their children to public school, safe in the knowledge that they will not be receiving any conflicting religious input from school authorities, and teach them at home or send them to private classes. Or they may choose to send their children to private religious schools, or they may home school them. And children have every right to pray in school as they wish, discuss their views with their classmates, and bring religious texts to school. This arrangement is fair to everyone, and cannot be improved upon.

          • johndoe

            You’re stupid.

          • Croquet_Player

            Ad hominem attacks – the refuge of those with no argument.

  • Roy Hobs

    The spirit of anti-Christ is parasitic in nature. A famous quote — To understand who rules over you, find out “who” you are not allowed to criticize.

  • BigDumbWhiteGuy

    This has an easy solution. When the students get up to speak during the meetings they should pray. It’s not scheduled. It’s not set aside. It’s not authorized. It just is. It can’t possibly be construed as government endorsement if the school didn’t put it in the schedule. The school cannot stop that and it can’t be against the rules for the students to speak. We have the first amendment for that reason.