How many church/state violations does a school district need to commit before they’ve crossed the line?
Correct answer: One.
But the Levy County School District in Florida committed at least seven.
According to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to Superintendent Robert O. Hastings, here’s what the District allegedly did:
1) Had invocation prayers at school board meetings
It is our understanding that each School Board of Levy County meeting begins with an invocation delivered by a board member. We also understand that the prayer generally invokes Jesus and that you, as superintendent, often deliver the prayer…
2) Had teachers promoting or participating in religious events with students
… we understand that Marla Hiers, the Principal at Williston Elementary School and Greg Hamilton, a teacher at WES, participated in a Global Day of Prayer event on the morning [of] May 8, 2015 at WES. It is our understanding that Principal Hiers gave the introductions, that Mr. Hamilton gave the prayer, that both students and faculty participated, and that the event ran into normal instruction time.
3) Promoted a (religious) baccalaureate graduation ceremony
It is our understanding that Cedar Key School promoted a baccalaureate service on the school’s website… We understand that the baccalaureate took place on May 24, 2015 and was held at the Cedar Key Baptist Church.
The school’s role in promoting the baccalaureate service on its website would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services.
4) Had teachers displaying religious messages in their classrooms
We understand these signs include messages such as “God danced the day you were born” and “You are gift of God [sic]. His own possession.” Further, we understand that all classrooms in the District contain an “In God We Trust” sign.
The religious nature of these particular signs is highlighted by their origin — they are made and sold by the American Family Association.
5) Had employees proselytizing to other employees
It is our understanding that Erin Owens, a teacher at Williston Elementary School uses her district provided email address to send weekly emails to WES staff with the subject line, “The Word,” and that these emails often include biblical passages.
6) Recognizes Good Friday as a school holiday on the District calendar
Good Friday is neither a federal holiday nor a Florida state holiday. It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for a public school system to close on this Christian holy day… the district should not close schools for a day celebrated only by Christians.
7) Promoted and held events in churches
… we understand that during the recent Florida state high school playoff run of the Williston High School baseball team, the school promoted watch parties at local churches through district emails and the Williston High School Facebook page.
The District says they’ll look into these allegations:
Levy County Schools Superintendent Rob Hastings said he received the letter and is working with the district’s staff attorney to investigate the claims.
“I do not think that all the points are valid, but we will certainly look into it and analyze it,” Hastings said. “We will do our best to make sure that our school board and our schools are following the Constitution and that we protect all our students’ rights.”
I’ll be the first to admit that not all of these allegations are over-the-top serious, but when you stack them all together, there’s a clear misunderstanding of how the law works in this District. Hastings would be doing everyone a favor by re-educating the teachers and administrators on what’s appropriate (and not) when it comes to bringing up religion while on the clock.
(Image via Shutterstock)