TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A prominent atheist organization has convinced an Indiana school district to end teacher-led prayer at area public schools following a complaint from an anonymous parent.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) contacted the Vigo County School Corporation in Terre Haute last May after receiving a complaint from a parent after teacher Jeffrey Burress at Sarah Scott Middle School allegedly led prayer at an awards banquet.
“Any prayers led by teachers at school-sponsored events must be stopped immediately,” the letter, addressed to Superintendent Daniel Tanoos, read.
“The district should make certain that teachers in its schools are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by encouraging them to engage in prayer,” it continued. “Considering the young age of the students, concern over religious coercion and proselytization should be especially high in middle schools.”
FFRF then requested an investigation into the matter and a response outlining the measures that the district would take to ensure that teachers and staff would no longer be permitted to lead prayers at school-sponsored events.
While Tanoos said that he disagreed with FFRF, he referred the letter to attorney Charles Rubright, who responded by complying with the atheist organizations’ demands.
“The school corporation has informed each building principal that teacher-led prayer with students present will cease, as it is prohibited by the Constitution and should not be allowed,” Rubright wrote.
Tanoos told the Tribune-Star that while teachers will not be allowed to lead prayers, he will allow voluntary student-led prayers at schools within the district.
While FFRF and other church-state separation groups have been challenging teacher-led prayers throughout the nation, others may note that religious studies were included in public schools in early America. As previously reported, the first textbook used in the nation even before its founding, The New England Primer, was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was brought to the land by the Puritans. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,” it read, in teaching children the alphabet, using Adam as an example of the letter A.
“Thy life to mend, this Book attend,” it continued for the letter B, referring to the Scriptures. “My Book and heart shall never part.”
“Christ crucified, for sinners died,” read the letter C.
In Alabama, lawmakers sought to re-introduce prayer in the classroom earlier this year, presenting a bill that would focus on teaching the formal procedures of Congress during the first class period of the day, which would include the prayer that is presented each morning by a chaplain or religious leader.
“If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t,” sponsor Steve Hurst (R-Munford) told the Anniston Star.
The bill has yet to come up for a vote in the state legislature.