Georgia School Board Petitioned to Protect Religious Rights of Teachers

School Bible pdBULLOCH COUNTY, GA — A group of residents in Bulloch County, Georgia is petitioning their local school board to protect the religious rights of its teachers.

Bulloch County Citizens for Religious Liberties, led by Pastor Jon Cook, recently requested that the county Board of Education review its religious expression guidelines after emails were distributed throughout the county instructing teachers to cleanse their classroom of Christianity.

“As of today, if you have a Bible verse on your school email and/or Bible verse posted in the classroom, please remove it immediately,” a message received by Cook’s wife, Jill, a teacher at Sallie Zetterower Elementary School, read. “If a student-led prayer is initiated, you must remove yourself and step away from the group.”

A complaint received by Americans United for Separation of Church and State reportedly sparked the memo, as the group contacted the district earlier this year to take issue with school prayer, including alleged teacher participation.

Therefore, after Cook’s wife received the email notice, he decided to form a coalition and create a petition asking the board to protect the religious rights of teachers. The petition asserts that the district’s list of prohibited activities “are not in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as long as they are a form of private expression and not an attempt to indoctrinate or instill beliefs in students.”

“We believe that the BOE (Board of Education) must be empathetic to those who have complaints but are not required to give in to demands made by outside organizations who do not understand our community,” it reads. “We, as a community, desire to have a good relationship with our BOE and school system officials and understand that it is in everyone’s best interest to work towards a common good that is fair to all those involved.”

Nearly 250 people attended a board meeting earlier this month to speak out over the matter, and last week, a follow-up information session was held with board attorney Susan Cox. Attorney Jeremy Dys of the Texas-based Liberty Council spoke at this month’s meeting, presenting the board with a letter demanding that it cease violating the religious rights of teachers.

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“[I]t is clear that the Board is creating a situation in which teachers are fearful to express their faith while at work or even voice disagreement with the repeated decisions of this Board to favor secular speech over and against religious speech,” it read. “We ask that you put a stop to censoring the email signatures of the teachers and staff of Bulloch County Schools and, within thirty (30) days, issue a statement to each of your teachers and support staff reaffirming their religious liberty.”

Soon after, the board issued a notice in support of the religious freedom of teachers and other district employees.

“We are grateful to see the Board of Education in Bulloch County begin to restore the trust of its teachers and community by affirming their commitment to the religious liberty of its employees and students,” Dys stated in a news release about the matter.  “While the Board’s commitment to religious liberty will become more apparent by its consistent, future actions in support of religious liberty, today it is clear that they are listening to the voices of the voters who put them into office.”

However, he said that concerns remain as some restrictions have not yet been overturned.

“[W]e are disappointed that the Board appears poised to unnecessarily close off an email signature line for any First Amendment expression in a country that values open dialog,” Dys remarked. “The Board of Education is not required to shut down all First Amendment expression in the signature lines of district email accounts.”

The Bulloch County Citizens for Religious Liberties petition has obtained over 1,200 signatures to date.

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  • Sir Tainly

    We need to balance freedom of religion with every other viewpoint…including my freedom from your religion…as it may apply…./not pointing any fingers here.

    This sounds to me that when it is all done they may find the right line in this community. I’m glad that they are speaking up because it does not sound like the restrictions on e-mails is reasonable.

    Neither is it reasonable to ask teachers to leave a classroom. If those kids did anything stupid (and they will if you tell them how to make a teacher leave the room, count on it)after the teacher left they’d probably make the teacher pay even with the restriction being school policy.

  • C.P. Steinmetz

    The teachers are using ‘smoke and mirrors’ arguments.

    First, “protect the religious rights of its teachers.” No one is infringing upon the religious rights of the teachers. What is being addressed is their obvious attempts to proselytize their students with Bible verses in the classroom on on their state supplied emails.

    Second, “The Board of Education is not required to shut down all First Amendment expression in the signature lines of district email accounts.” Of course it is. Using state supplied email accounts to promote religion is clearly unconstitutional. Additionally, these people are educators; why don’t their sig lines promote education, rather than religion?

    Third, “are not required to give in to demands made by outside organizations who do not understand our community,” What this is really stating is that ‘outside organizations do not understand that our community believes it has the right to violate the law of the land by using state funds to promote a religion.’

    Fourth, “are not in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as long as they are a form of private expression and not an attempt to indoctrinate or instill beliefs in students.” And just how can an elementary school student tell the difference between the teacher teaching and teaching religion?

    Fifth, “If a student-led prayer is initiated.” Sure, the old ‘student-led’ prayer scam. It is no great leap of logic to understand that the teacher is initiating prayer and having Johnny or Susie lead it. Again, the law forbids them to proselytize their religion.

    And finally, “First Amendment expression in a country that values open dialog,” Is it really shutting down open dialog when stopping illegal behavior?

    • Jason

      You are seriously confused on what the law of the land is. Have you ever read the first amendment?

      • C.P. Steinmetz

        Yes, Jason, I have.

        More importantly, the law of the land is the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In that sense, you might search ‘entanglement,’ as related to the ‘Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.’

    • j.l.w

      the part about student led prayer was in the letter the BOE sent out.

  • Kathleen Elizabeth Neely

    I live in Fresno CAlifornia, we have Immigrants from every country on earth. We have called a truce on the religious and culture. Everyone needs to just be polite.

    • C.P. Steinmetz

      This is a nice thought. It should be more universal. Just today, “EUREKA, Calif. – A judge in Humboldt County, California has issued a ruling declaring that invocations at city council meetings do not violate the state Constitution.”

      I guess they need a few invocations from other religions to help them see that their practices are exclusionary.

  • john

    What would these same people petitioning do if a teacher was conveying that another religion besides Christianity was the one true religion or that all religions are pure superstition? I would bet that they would be the same ones trying to keep that teachers personal beliefs out of the classroom. You cant have it both ways folks!

    • C.P. Steinmetz

      Too right! Why is it that people who argue for religion to be taught in school always assume that it will be their religion?

      The irony is that the Fundamentalists cannot even agree among themselves on ‘TRUTH’.

  • Karate Kathleen

    I think far too many other things are being discussed in schools distracting students from why they’re there-to get an education. So lets stop talking about ANY kind of religion or sexuality and focus on why we send to kids to school-MATH, SCIENCE, ENGLISH AND OTHER LANGUAGES, ART & MUSIC. Teachers just focus on these things, not YOUR right to “religious freedom & expression.” Parents do not send their kids to school for that! Board of Education & teachers: THE BUISNESS OF THE SCHOOL IS EDUCATION. Stop all other non-educational distractions or our kids will pay the price!

    • C.P. Steinmetz

      You state: “THE BUISNESS OF THE SCHOOL IS EDUCATION.” Why is it that your simple and elegant statement is totally lost in the battle to convert children to a religion?

      Unfortunately, your note that: “our kids will pay the price!” is too late. Look at our rankings in education world wide. We have already paid too high a price.