RINGGOLD, Ga. — The nation’s most conspicuous professing atheist organization has expressed objection to the creation of cross memorials at a Georgia high school as part of a city effort to remember fallen soldiers.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter earlier this year to the attorney for Catoosa County Public Schools to assert that the crosses, made at Ringgold High School, were unconstitutional.
“We write to request assurances that, in the future, Mr. Elliott nor any other district employee will include religious messages in student assignments, allow school-sponsored religious activities, or otherwise promote or endorse religion in their official capacities,” it read.
The organization also took issue with another school in the district, as it had learned that Heritage High School’s leadership class had partnered with a Christian missions organization to build a school for the poor in Nicaragua. The district’s director of students services had recommended the group Nicamerican Missions after Principal Ronnie Bradford suggested the class partner with a school in the third world.
FFRF’s correspondence has just now come to light.
“It is laudable for the district to encourage students to become active, charitable, and involved in their community by volunteering and donating, but the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to support a religious organization with a religious mission,” the letter read in part.
“Partnering with any one of the numerous secular charities doing important work throughout the world would serve HHS’s purpose without running the risk of the district sending a message of religious endorsement,” FFRF asserted.
According to the Times Free Press, students raised $20,000 last December from area businesses in just two days, and a student-faculty basketball game was also held in February as a fundraiser for the effort.
In regard to the crosses, which were made by construction classes at Ringgold High School for the biannual Festival of Flags event, FFRF requested that the district direct teacher Tim Elliott to discontinue the project with his students.
The crosses, which bear the names of fallen soldiers, are placed in the ground throughout the city for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. American flags fly atop each small memorial.
“Public school teachers may not assign students to create religious symbols,” the letter from the Church-State separation group read. “… This assignment violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and choice committed to the private sphere.’ It also sends a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not other non-Christian and non-religious soldiers.”
Catoosa County Public Schools has just now responded to the controversy, explaining in a recent press release that while the district attorney is researching the matter, officials are supportive of the projects at issue.
“Catoosa County Public Schools supports students’ participating in service activities,” said Superintendent Denia Reese. “The flag holders that the RHS construction class built to support honoring our veterans, and the money that our HHS students raised to build a school for underprivileged children, are examples of our students working to serve others.”
“The system’s attorney is thoroughly researching the allegations from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and when he has completed this research he will respond to them explaining how our students can continue to participate in these service activities,” she explained.
In his 1823 book “Letters to a Young Man Commencing His Education,” Noah Webster, also known as the father of American education, wrote, “Let it then be the first study of your early years, to learn in what consists real worth or dignity of character. To ascertain this important point, consider the character and the attributes of the Supreme Being. As God is the only perfect being in the universe, His character, consisting of all that is good and great, must be the model of all human excellence, and His laws must of course be the only rules of conduct by which His rational creatures can reach any portion of like excellence.”