QUANAH, Texas — A prominent humanist group is demanding that a public school teacher in Texas remove her Christian-themed displays from the classroom out of its assertion that their presence violates the U.S. Constitution.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) recently sent a letter to the superintendent of the Quanah Independent School District, as well as the principal of Reagan Elementary School to advise that it had received a complaint from a parent whose daughter is in the teacher’s class.
It stated that the parent, who identifies as an atheist, learned last month that her daughter’s fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jalomo, had religious displays in the classroom. She went to the school herself and found two decorative signs: one that read “Listen well. Pray often. Love always,” and another that said “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.”
The parent contacted the administration about the matter, but Jalomo advised that Superintendent Ryan Turner told her that she was within her rights to have the signs in her room. A week later, the parent was notified by her daughter that there were crosses in the room as well, one of which included the ichthus symbol.
“As the parent deliberately raised her child without religious beliefs, the daughter asked her mother what the ‘fish’ meant,” AHA’s letter reads. “The mother, understandably, felt disheartened by the entire situation and betrayed by her public school.”
She consequently reached out to the humanist organization for intervention. AHA contends that the displays are a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
“These classroom religious displays are inappropriate in any public school context and especially in an elementary school,” the organization wrote to the superintendent and principal. “No child, Christian or non-Christian, should go to school to have his or her teacher’s religious beliefs overtake the atmosphere of the classroom. “
“[T]he teacher is not merely ‘discussing’ her religious beliefs with students, which alone would be constitutionally violative, but is affirmatively endorsing them before a captive audience of students,” it asserted. “The teacher’s sign encouraging ‘prayer’ is especially problematic. It is firmly established that faculty encouraging prayer to students violates the Establishment Clause.”
AHA has requested that the displays be removed immediately under threat of a lawsuit.
“The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause unequivocally prohibits public school teachers from using the classroom to proselytize Christianity and encourage young children to pray,” Monica Miller, senior counsel at the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement. “The teacher’s religious signs and crosses promote religion and coerce young students to adopt religious views in violation of the Establishment Clause.”
As previously reported, in a recent dissenting opinion in a New Mexico Ten Commandments case, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Paul Kelly, Jr. and Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich noted that the Establishment Clause is being interpreted incorrectly and not in “the historical understanding of an ‘establishment of religion,’ and thus with what the First Amendment actually prohibits.”
They explained that “[e]stablishment was … the norm in the American Colonies. Exclusive Anglican establishments reigned in the southern states, whereas localized Puritan establishments were the norm in New England, except in Rhode Island.”
This began in Europe, “the continent of origin for most American colonists,” Kelly outlined. “[E]ach country had long established its own state church—a generalized version of cuius regio, eius religio—over which each government exercised varying degrees of control. Germany and Scandinavia had official Lutheran establishments; Holland, a Reformed state church; France, the Gallican Catholic Church; Ireland, the Church of Ireland; Scotland, the Church of Scotland; and so on.”
Therefore, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution regarding “respecting an establishment” only referred to showing favoritism to one state establishment over another, and solely applied to the federal government.
“From the words of the text, though, two conclusions are relatively clear: first, the provision originally limited the federal government and not the states, many of which continued to support established churches; and second, the limitation respected only an actual ‘establishment of religion,’” the federal judges outlined.