ACLU says Tennessee county education board promotes Christianity
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a complaint recently against the Sumner County Board of Education in Tennessee, saying that schools within the district have been endorsing Christianity in breach of the U.S. Constitution.
The ACLU filed the complaint on behalf of parents of three families with children who go to T.W. Hunter, Beech High School, Madison Creek Elementary and Indian Lake Elementary, The Tennessean said.
The complaint alleges that the school system has endorsed religion at least since 2006, by, among others, distributing bibles in two of their schools, displaying a cross on a wall in a classroom, saying prayers over the school loudspeaker during special events and the holding (by three high schools within the district) of graduation ceremonies at a Baptist church, The Tennessean reported.
The complaint is not a lawsuit. However, it does ask that all religious activities cease, according to The Tennessean.
Named in the complaint are all members of the school board, and Benny Bills (director of schools), Frank Cardwell (Beech High School principal), Ahmed White (T.W. Hunter principal), Robin Hood (Madison Creek Elementary principal) and Jewell McGhee (Indian Lake Elementary principal), The Tennessean reported.
The Sumner County Board is responding to the complaint through the American Center for Law and Justice, which is giving its services free of charge, according to The Tennessean.
Wesley H. Southerland of the ACLJ told The Tennessean, “At this point we are aware of the allegations, and we have advised the Board of Education to take all precautions necessary to make sure they are operating in a constitutional way.”
According to the ACLU complaint, members of a bible study group at Madison Creek Elementary were allowed to “pray over the loudspeaker” on a daily basis, The Tennessean said.
However Robin Hood, the school’s asst. principal, denied the allegations saying, “We observe a moment of silence over the intercom in the mornings before school,” according to The Tennessean
Hood, who also teaches at the school, told The Tennessean, “I have never heard anyone, an adult or a student, pray during morning announcements or at any other time over the loudspeaker.”
The complaint from ACLU also alleges that a teacher from Indian Lake Elementary told students to line up so that those who wished to could get a Bible, and could put their names on it if they wished, The Tennessean said.
Jewell McGhee, principal of Indian Lake Elementary declined to comment about the incident to The Tennessean.
Baptist youth minister
The ACLU complaint also alleges that a Long Hollow Baptist Church youth minister visited T.W. Hunter Middle School regularly during lunch time as the guest of a member of the church, The Tennessean said.
The youth minister would often visit the tables of other students in the cafeteria and talk of his church ministry and faith. Three students, the complaint alleged, did not welcome being proselytized to on a “weekly, if not daily basis,” The Tennessean reported.
The complaint also states that the Baptist church, in collaboration with some T.W. Hunter Middle School students, promoted “TCAP’aloosa,” an event where students could go to the Baptist Church using Sumner County school buses where they were given treats, played games and watched movies, The Tennessean said.
Those who chose not to go remained at school and were given work assignments to do, according to The Tennessean.
Ahmed White (principal of T.W. Hunter), and Rev. David Landrith (senior pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church), did not issue any comments regarding this, The Tennessean said.
The complaint also averred that pending graduation ceremonies slated for May 20-21 will be held at Long Hollow Baptist Church for Station Camp, Beech and White House high schools rather than at a non-religious facility, The Tennessean said.
Benny Bills, director of schools, told The Tennessean that Long Hollow has the required space to accommodate up to 5,000 people, and its facilities are given free of charge. While other venues were considered by the school system, the fees were too costly.
The ACLU wrote in its complaint that the board attorney and Bills were told of the complaints since December, but “Despite being put on notice of their unlawful policies, customs and practices, the school board has failed to address these issues,” The Tennessean reported.
Herzfeld, who penned the ACLU complaint, declined through a spokesman to comment, The Tennessean said.