WAYNESBORO, Tenn. — Prayers will not be allowed to be presented over the public address system at a school in Tennessee after one of the nation’s most conspicuous professing atheist groups lodged a complaint about a student’s recent prayer during the morning announcements.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter on March 26 to the Superintendent of the Wayne County Board of Education after learning of a video posted to the Tennessee River Valley News Facebook page.
The video showed a female student praying during the morning announcements, and was captioned “How Fridays begin at Wayne County High School in Tennessee.”
“Dear Heavenly Father, I just want to thank You for this day that You’ve given us, Lord,” she began. “And Lord, I want to thank You for the protection that You continue to put over our school, God.”
“I thank You for our country and I ask You to continue to keep us safe here, God, and let us just remember to make decisions that go towards You, Lord,” the student continued. “And Lord, I thank you for Your Son who died on a cross for our sins.”
FFRF quickly sent correspondence to Superintendent Marlon Davis to ask that such practices not be allowed in the future. The Church-State separation group asserted that the allowance was unconstitutional and alienated students who are not Christians.
“The practice of opening each school day with a broadcast religious ritual is illegal,” wrote attorney Christopher Line. “The practice of opening the school day with prayer creates the appearance of school endorsement of religion. This practice must end.”
“Nothing in the law prevents students, teachers or school administrators from freely exercising their religion on their own time and in their own way,” he stated. “But a public school itself must not broadcast a decidedly religious message to a captive student audience, thereby isolating and excluding those students who are non-Christian or nonreligious.”
Davis has now replied to FFRF, advising that the prayer in the video was not a regular occurrence at the school, but a single instance where a student decided to pray in presenting the announcements that particular morning. However, he also advised that he has directed the principal not to let it happen again.
“This is not a daily practice, but was an occurrence where an FCA student was sharing announcements with the student body and included a prayer as a part of her presentation,” Davis wrote. “I have shared your letter with the principal and directed him to enforce the request to cease.”
FFRF has applauded the move, calling the presentation of prayer in school “divisive.”
As previously reported, while some state that the Constitution prohibits Christianity from being endorsed in public schools, others note that this was not the thinking of a number of the founding fathers.
Dr. Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and vice-president of the Bible Society of Philadelphia. In 1806, he said, “The only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.”
In 1828, just 41 years after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Webster’s famous “Blue Back Speller” for students referenced Christianity, including God-centered statements in reading lessons such as “The preacher is to preach the gospel,” “Blasphemy is contemptuous treatment of God,” and “We do not like to see our own sins.”