Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Praying Parents Case

A new development in the Praying Parents case from Wilson County, Tennessee. This is an establishment clause case brought by the ACLU on behalf of parents in the district (full name: John and Jane Doe v. Wilson County School System). There is a group there called the Praying Parents who meet at the school to pray for students and teachers every week with the clear endorsement of the school. The new development is that the judge has granted a motion to intervene in the case by the members of that group, filed by the ADF, which is representing them.

You can find the complaint in the case here. It looks to me like some of their allegations are serious, some are not. The factual allegations are:

1. That the school has a See You At The Pole day and that the school put up posters around the school promoting the event.

The validity of this complaint really rides on who put up the posters promoting the event. The event itself is clearly legal as long as it is organized and sponsored by students or an outside group. If the posters were put up by a student Bible club, for example, then there is no constitutional problem here. If they were put up by the school administration, there is a clear establishment clause violation.

2. The Praying Parents are not merely a group of parents who pray on their own, they are endorsed by the school administration and given access to students that no other group gets.

This is clearly the strongest charge. Any group of parents has every right to pray for anyone they wish to pray for, of course, and depending on the circumstances they probably even have a right to use school facilities to do so. But the complaint presents a great deal of compelling evidence that this goes far beyond that and that this group is not only endorsed and promoted by the school administration, but is given access to classrooms during instructional time.

According to the complaint, after they pray they go around the school and are allowed to go in to classrooms during instructional time to hand out cards and treats to students to let them know that they’ve been prayed for. The school also has a section on their official website about the group, includes them in the school newsletter and sends fliers home to parents from the group. The access to classrooms is the most damning fact here and it’s highly unlikely that the court is going to allow that.

3. The school sponsored and promoted a National Day of Prayer event.

This is also a very compelling part of the complaint. The complaint includes exhibits showing that the school distributed a flier to the students encouraging them to take part in this event. They also published a newsletter endorsing and promoting the event, which was held in the school cafeteria, and even held a contest among students for the best poster to promote the event, which they then hung in the halls of the school.

4. The school held a Christmas program with religious music.

This is a pretty weak claim. The courts have pretty consistently allowed religious music to be performed by school choirs and bands. It’s possible that there was more to it than that, but if that’s all they have this claim isn’t likely to succeed.

5. That teachers led students in prayer and singing religious songs during class time.

This is a pretty serious charge and the complaint says that the school actually sent out a DVD to all the parents showing a montage of the events of the last year that included footage of this going on. Again, unlikely that a court will allow that sort of thing.

The complaint also quotes some of the defendants in the administration acknowledging that the activities being complained about had gone on for several years, that their school has “a reputation as a religious school” and that they have no intention of changing that. At least one of the defendants allegedly told the parents that if they didn’t like it, they should send their child to a different school. Naturally, the ADF is spinning this with absurd rhetoric:

“Christians are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “But that’s exactly what the ACLU’s lawsuit seeks to do. They want to silence all forms of public religious expression even when it’s part of celebrating our nation’s rich and diverse religious history and heritage.”…

“As long as the ACLU continues its campaign of fear, intimidation, and disinformation against our First Liberty, religious freedom, ADF will defend the constitutional rights of those who come under attack,” said Kellum.

But if the facts alleged in this case are true (and the exhibits in the case clearly back up most of them), the problem is not Christians being treated as second class citizens, but quite the opposite – Christians being treated as the only acceptable citizens, given access to promote their religious beliefs that no other group could conceivably have. And to try and make this into a case about religious freedom is patently absurd.

The Praying Parents have every right to pray anytime they want for anyone they want, but they have no right to go into public school classrooms during instructional time and promote their religion to students. And people have a right to make every day a day of prayer if they want, but when the school endorses, promotes and encourages students in a public school to take part in it, they’re crossing the line into proselytizing. The only attempts to intimidate here are by the school administrators who are using their position of authority to promote their religious views to students in their charge.