WYTHEVILLE, Va. — An elementary school in Virginia has removed a plaque from its cafeteria that thanks God for the food following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.
The plaque at issue, which had been displayed in the cafeteria of Spiller Elementary School in Wytheville, read, “Our Father, we thank Thee for this food. Bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and our lives to Thy service. Amen.” It is not known how long the plaque had been present.
However, 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 Church-State separation 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 before receiving a response, on Aug. 24, FFRF received a reply from Superintendent Jeff Perry, advising that the display had been removed.
“It’s reassuring to see the school district take such swift action to ensure that all students feel welcome in its schools,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a press release announcing the development. “Schools, after all, should be used to further education, not religious ideologies.”
As previously reported, in 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” which required that children be taught to read so they could learn to read the Bible.
“In being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, … and that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors, it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof, that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read,” it read in part.
The first textbook used in the American colonies even before the nation’s founding, “The New England Primer,” was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was stated to be popular in public and private schools alike until approximately the early 1900’s. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“Save me, O God, from evil all this day long, and let me love and serve Thee forever, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son,” it read.