Think Forced Prayer In School Is A Think Of The Past? Think Again.

If you think forced prayer in school was a thing from the distant past, think again. In February 2014, a Georgia atheist couple sued the Emanuel County School District because teachers subjected their children — then in Kindergarten and first grade — to forced prayer in school.

The Augusta Chronicle reports both Jesse and Jamie Doe’s teachers at Swainsboro Primary School led their classes in “Christian” prayers each day, despite the fact that this is illegal (note: Jesse and Jamie Doe are pseudonyms).

In a kindergarten class, Cel Thomp­­son led students in a call and response prayer: “God our Father, we give thanks for our many blessings. Amen.” In a first-grade class, Kaytrene Bright led students in a daily prayer: “God is great. Let us thank you for our food. Thank you for our daily prayer. Thank you. Amen.”

The children were also expected to bow their heads and clasp their hands during these school prayers.

When the parents complained to the teachers and School Principal Valorie Watkins about the forced prayer in school, Thompson and Bright adamantly defied the laws of our land. Instead calling quits on their daily prayer ritual, these so-called educators allegedly began sending Jamie and Jesse out into the hallway while everyone else prayed. The first grader adds that Ms. Bright “used her mean voice” when ordering the child out of the classroom.

That’s when the Does sought help from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a watch dog group based in Madison, Wisc. In a strongly worded August 20 2014 letter to the Emanuel County School District’s superintendent, an FFRF attorney wrote a strongly worded letter:

I am writing on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to alert you to serious constitutional violations in Emmanuel County Schools.[
] Public school teachers and staff may not lead, direct, ask or even encourage students to pray. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools.

According to the letter, the school principal also said “something like ‘other parents who don’t want their kids to participate in class prayer are okay with their children being taken out of class.’” The attorney concluded that

“This shows that this is a consistent, systemic problem in the school.”

When the Does and the FFRF filed their lawsuit in Feb. 2014, they explained that the children were subjected to constant pressure from their teachers, and continually teased and ostracized by their fellow students. Jamie felt so uncomfortable he dropped out of kindergarten and is now home schooled by his parents. Meanwhile Ms. Bright kept “advising” Jesse to “make a good decision” next time praying time comes along and told her not to listen to her atheist mother’s views on forced school prayer because she’s a “bad person for not believing in God.”

Good grief! It comes as no surprise that this school full of mean, ignorant “educators” is located in a district that ranks 141st out of 181 districts in the state.

Swainsboro Primary School Settles, Agrees To End Forced School Prayer.

Thankfully, Swainsboro Primary School and the Emanuel County School District finally realized their cause is a losing one and negotiated a settlement with the Does and FFRF. The settlement includes an end to forced school prayer, required training for offending teachers, and undisclosed financial compensation for the Does.

In a statement, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor declared:

“We’re pleased that the Emanuel County Schools has taken action to correct the egregious constitutional violations that were taking place in its classrooms. No devotions and religious practices should take place in public schools, and no small child should ever be pressured to take part in such illegal practices. More than 50 years of clear Supreme Court precedent bar such coercive conduct, because religion in schools is divisive and builds walls between children.” 

Alas, this seems like a pyrrhic victory for the Doe family. The lawsuit and settlement may have changed things on paper, but the intolerant and bullying people involved are still exactly the same. And, as a rather witty Augusta Chronicle reader who goes by the handle StarDust commented, “When will the public schools accept that religion is NOT one of the three R’s?”

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