How many church/state separation violations can one school district be guilty of? The River Forest Community School Corporation in Indiana must be trying to break a record.
J.B. is a student completing his sophomore year there and he and his parents have noticed several problems with the way the District handles religion.
There were the coach-led sectarian prayers before J.B.’s football, basketball, and track matches:
… the coach will typically call the team together and announce that it is time to pray. The coach, assistant coaches, and team-members will kneel in a circle or huddle, and the coach will recite a prayer that generally mentions God or Jesus Christ, or else has other overtly Christian themes. On occasion, the assistant coaches will lead the prayer.
J.B. did not wish to participate in prayers or to have any of his teams pray before games. He and another player previously complained to his football coach about the prayers, and were told that they had the option to just sit there and be quiet but that the prayers would continue and that they had to remain huddled with the team.
When his family told the Athletic Director, Principal, and Superintendent about these prayers, they “were told generally that J.B. should simply learn to get along better
with his coaches.”
There were also the sectarian prayers offered by the President of the School Board at their meetings, which were attended by J.B.’s parents Jim and Nichole Bellar:
The prayers offered during School Board meetings almost always (or perhaps always) reference God or Jesus Christ, or else have other overtly Christian themes.
And there was the formal Christian prayer at River Forest Jr./Sr. High School’s graduation ceremony last year, which the whole family attended:
At the behest of the High School and/or the School Corporation, these graduation ceremonies contain a prayer or invocation, which typically has overtly Christian themes and references.
The decision to have a prayer at the graduation was made by administrators of the School Corporation, and not by the individual student who gave the prayer. The graduation program contains a listing for “invocation” immediately after the singing of the national anthem.
Any one of these things would be illegal. When one District is guilty of all of them, you have to wonder whether these adults think they work for a public school district or a local church.
The family just filed a lawsuit against the District (with the help of the ACLU of Indiana) and say that J.B. has been harassed because he doesn’t just stay quiet and play along with the District’s promotion of Christianity:
[J.B.’s] parents are contemplating removing him from the School Corporation for the 2015-16 school year, even though J.B. would prefer to continue attending the High School, because they feel that J.B. has been singled out for harassment due to his opposition to the religious prayers that form the basis for this action.
While some online commenters are ignorant about how the law works, the Bellars know exactly what they’re doing.
Even in Indiana, this should be an open/shut case that results in the District having to shell out taxpayer money for it’s own irresponsibility. The family tried settling all of this privately, but it’s clear that District officials don’t give a damn what they have to say. They won’t be able to ignore the lawsuit quite that easily.
I’ve reached out to the Bellars for further comment and will update this post if/when I hear back.
(Thanks to Melissa for the link)