Last October, Dr. Jerry Sanders officially became the superintendent of the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation in Monroe County, Indiana. Within months, he was using his title to discuss his faith. He wrote a letter to local pastors, on school letterhead, encouraging them to pray for him, quoting scripture, and attributing his new role not to his credentials but to God’s Will.
The American Humanist Association is now warning him against using his public position to promote his private religious agenda.
“A school superintendent, acting in his official capacity, writing on school letterhead, should not be promoting his personal religious beliefs and encouraging religious practices,” explains David Niose, legal director at the AHA. “This is insensitive to religious minorities and offensive to the separation of church and state.”
“This violation of the Establishment Clause, and a blatant show of disrespect to the many non-Christian residents of the school district,” notes American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt.
Sanders doesn’t think it’s a big deal at all. He told a local news outlet this was nothing more than a form of community outreach.
“The idea of sending a letter to the churches was basically part of plan in reaching out to different community organizations,” Sanders says.
Sanders says the church letter was just the beginning of his marketing plan for the school, which also includes connecting with the local chamber of commerce and real estate agencies.
The problem with that excuse is that Sanders would never have sent the same letter to the chamber of commerce. Instead of asking local religious leaders to support the district, he asked Christian leaders to use Christian magic works to support the Christian guy running the public schools. It’s not like he would’ve sent the same letter to local Muslim leaders.
His only regret, he said, was using school letterhead. Good. That’s what everyone had a problem with. The issue isn’t his faith. No one’s accusing him of proselytizing to students. The issue is spreading the notion, intentionally or not, that this is a Christian school district.
While it’s not like you’ll see a lawsuit over this alone, it’s a sign that Sanders either doesn’t understand or respect church/state separation. All the more reason for community members to keep a close eye on his actions in the future.
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