WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Residents of a small Virginia town are expressing concern after officials recently removed a plaque from an elementary school cafeteria that thanks God for the food in light of a complaint from one of the nation’s most active Church-State separation groups.
“We have allowed the Freedom From Religion Foundation supposedly acting on behalf of some unnamed individual to shake down the citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia, specifically the residents of Wythe County. This decision should be made by us, no ideological bullies from five states away,” J. Andrew Davis, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, said during a meeting of the Wythe County School Board on Thursday.
“If we cave so easily to their demands in this issue, what’s to stop them from attacking other religious expression we hold dear?” he asked. “I realize there are financial considerations in this affair, but at some point we need to put our foot down and stop the increasing erosion of our constitutional rights.”
As previously reported, the plaque at issue had been displayed in the cafeteria of Spiller Elementary School and read, “Our Father, we thank Thee for this food. Bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and our lives to Thy service. Amen.”
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote to the superintendent of Wythe County Public Schools earlier this year after being contacted by a local complainant, whose identity it kept anonymous. FFRF asserted that the plaque was problematic because the prayer could conflict with the beliefs of some students and their families.
“Elementary students should not have to view materials promoting a Christian message,” it wrote. “There is no educational or academic component or motive for such postings; their presence is proselytizing to a captive audience.”
The professing atheist group also contended that the plaque was unconstitutional because it gave the impression that the school prefers Christianity over other religions—or no religion at all.
“Students may infer from the plaque that Wythe County Public Schools has a preference for religion over nonreligion, and in this case, Christianity over other faiths,” FFRF asserted. “Wythe County has an obligation to ensure that its schools are welcoming to all students, not just those in the Christian majority.”
It requested that the plaque be immediately removed from the cafeteria, and that FFRF be notified of the action that would be taken. While months passed with no response from the district, on Aug. 24, Superintendent Jeff Perry replied to FFRF, advising that the display had been removed.
However, some residents state that the district should not have removed the plaque, but rather stand with “backbone.”
Parent Wilma Justus told the board that everyone is offended by something, and that “we can’t please everybody.”
“Now, we are in a whirlwind across the country to just get rid of things we don’t like,” she said, according to Southwestern Virginia Today.
“Political correctness has become the lawgiver, king and judge in these United States,” also remarked Nathan Tucker. “Where does it stop? Where do we draw the line?”
The board plans to hold a special meeting on Sept. 21 to explain its actions and listen to feedback from the community.
“During this meeting, we will provide community members with an explanation of the law and why we made the decision to take down the plaque,” it notes in a post on its Facebook page. “We will also give community members an opportunity to express their concerns and to ask questions. We are holding this forum to ensure community members have an opportunity to talk with us and to ask questions.
“[T]his community forum on September 21 will allow us to have meaningful conversations with members of the community. We want to make sure that our parents and community members feel that they have been heard and we respond to their questions.”