ELLETTSVILLE, Ind. — A Washington, D.C.-based humanist organization recently sent a letter of complaint to an Indiana school superintendent after learning that he used official letterhead to send correspondence to area pastors to request regular prayer for students, teachers and administrators.
“I am thankful that God has blessed me with the opportunity to serve as the superintendent of the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation,” wrote Dr. Jerry Sanders in a letter sent to 20 pastors in December. “The purpose of my letter is to ask churches across Richland and Bean Blossom Townships to pray for our school corporation.”
“Every day, as I drive to work, I ask God to give me the wisdom and skills necessary to lead our school corporation towards a safe and productive day for our students and staff,” he continued. “Knowing that God is with me provides a sense of strength and confidence as I face the challenges of the day.”
Sanders quoted from Colossians 3:17, which states that all is to be done in the name of Christ, and asked that pastors have their congregation pray for the school district the first day of each month.
He provided a list of several prayer points, which included safety for students, successful learning, and that teachers, staff and administrators would make a difference in the lives of youth. Sanders also asked for prayer for wisdom in his own decision-making duties.
“I am excited to think about the many blessings that will come with an entire community collectively praying on the same day of every month for the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation,” he wrote.
While it did not provide the content of its complaint to Sanders, the American Humanist Association (AHA) outlined in a press release on Thursday that it had written to the superintendent to “warn” him about his “promotion of Christian ideology.”
It learned of the matter after Turning Point Apostolic Church posted a copy of the letter to social media on Feb. 1, writing, “Please join us in praying for our schools today. Here is a letter from our new superintendent.”
“A school superintendent, acting in his official capacity, writing on school letterhead, should not be promoting his personal religious beliefs and encouraging religious practices,” David Niose, legal director of the AHA, said in a statement. “This is insensitive to religious minorities and offensive to the separation of church and state.”
School board President Dana Kerr has now released a letter to the community stating that Sanders should not have written the correspondence on official letterhead, and apologizing to any who may have been offended.
“Dr. Sanders does have the right to personally believe as he chooses and to discuss those beliefs with area pastors,” he wrote. “However, he should not have used RBBCSC letterhead as his letter was personal, representing only his beliefs, and was not a representation of RBBCSC.”
“RBBCSC is a public school corporation and we are neutral with respect to religion,” Kerr added.
He requested that any copies of the letter posted online be removed as it was only representative of Sanders and not the district at large.
Local television station WTHR reached out to Sanders, who acknowledged that he probably shouldn’t have used district letterhead, but stood by the content of the letter itself.
“I think it’s important to point out that I did not send this letter out to R-BB parents, students or staff,” he told reporters. “I believe as superintendent it’s my job to provide our students with a safe, educational public place to attend school, and that is for all students.”