TIGER, Ga. — A school district in Georgia has agreed to discontinue its practice of presenting prayers at graduation ceremonies and has removed a sign bearing the name of Jesus following a complaint from a humanist organization.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) sent a letter earlier this month to the Rabun County School District after it said that it had been contacted by a parent–whose name has not been disclosed–over the prayers and sign.
“The parent reports that Principal Lisa Patterson has led the student body of Rabun Primary in a Christian-specific prayer at several annual graduation ceremonies. The parent also reports that administrator-initiated prayers were delivered at the second grade graduation ceremonies at Rabun County Elementary School,” the letter stated.
“In addition, there is a sign displaying ‘Jesus’ on the grounds of the Rabun County Board of Education’s offices,” it said.
AHA says that the parent was upset that the prayers included words such as “Lord,” “God” and “in Jesus’ name” because his child had been raised to be a non-theist.
“The graduation prayers and the Jesus sign are clear violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the organization asserted. “As such, we hereby demand that the school district promptly remove the Jesus sign from school property and provide us with written assurances that: (1) prayers will no longer be delivered at school-sponsored events, including graduation ceremonies, and (2) that public school property will not be used to endorse Christianity.”
It then threatened a lawsuit if the demands were not met.
While the school district has not commented publicly on the matter, AHA reports that it has received a response from district officials, outlining that Superintendent Melissa Williams met with Principal Patterson and “instructed her on the legal prohibitions and limitations regarding administrator-led prayer on school grounds and at school functions.”
The letter also said that “administrator-led prayers will not occur at the Rabun County Elementary School anymore,” according to AHA. The “Jesus” sign that appeared on a telephone pole near the district office has likewise been removed.
“Moving forward, the school district must take steps to ensure that students are not subjected to religious coercion through school-endorsed prayers so that all students feel welcome in the district,” AHA attorney Monica Miller said in a press release this week.
According to an online “History of Religion in Public Schools,” in 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, which included a section requiring governments of new territories that wish to become states “to establish schools ‘to teach religion, morality, and knowledge.’”
“Nearly every state admitted to the Union after this has written in their state Constitution wording that the schools are to teach morality and religion and they all use the Bible as the basis for their teachings,” the outline explains.