Saturday, September 30, 2006

lawsuit for praying in public schools

my elementary school is now under a lawsuit. it made the front page of the tennessean yesterday and i think its just not worth the trouble. here's the article-

"School-based religious activities, heralded by some who welcome a return of God to public classrooms, came under fire in a new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee this week.
The lawsuit claims that a series of Christian meetings and prayer events at Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet violated the constitution al separation of church and state and illegally subjected young children to "religious proselytizing."
But many involved in public school education say that religion is exactly what's been missing.
"I know there is going to be some conflict and controversy about this … but I believe we need basic religion in our schools to teach children the way God would have them go," said Will Duncan, a member of the Sumner County Board of Education. "If we don't, somewhere down the line we are going to lose a whole generation of children."
But others say that exposing children to God and religion is clearly not the role of public schools.
"Parents should be the ones to decide which religion, if any, they should expose their children to," said Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "When school officials step into that role and start promoting particular faiths, they are usurping parental rights."
It is a perennial debate. In 1999, parents of some fifth-graders in Warren County public schools took issue with educators who allowed representatives of the Gideons ministry to distribute New Testaments in school.
That same year, members of the Putnam County Board of Education vowed to continue to begin their monthly meetings with prayer, despite a federal appellate court's ruling that such prayer is unconstitutional.
A few years earlier, in Lebanon, the Mighty Men, who perform feats of strength in between testifying about their Christian faith, canceled an appearance after school officials became concerned, in part, about the performance taking place during the school day.
The ACLU's lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Old Hickory parents, who said their son — a kindergartner last year — was exposed to religious events and messages that were "coercive" and "highly offensive."
The activities included a "Praying Parents" group that regularly met in the school cafeteria during school hours and dropped off fliers in classrooms to let children know they'd been prayed for, according to the suit.
And it says that the school observed "National Day of Prayer" by holding a competition for students to draw posters promoting the day, handing out stickers that said "I prayed" to students who'd participated and encouraging students to link up for the day with "prayer buddies."
Those students without a prayer buddy or a sticker stood out, "disfavored and isolated," the suit said.
ACLU attorney Eddie Schmidt said he did not object to religious events that took place on school grounds before or after the school day, as long as they did not involve the endorsement and promotion by school officials. Some of these events, however, did take place during school hours and established a pattern and practice of endorsing not only religion, but a particular version of Christianity, ACLU attorneys said.
But that claim, in the view of an attorney with the Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, is "absurd on its face."
"Essentially what (the ACLU) fails to distinguish is the critical difference between government-sponsored speech and private speech, which is constitutionally protected," said Memphis based attorney Nate Kellum, with the Alliance Defense Fund, who read the ACLU's suit but is not involved in the case.
School officials would not comment Thursday on the lawsuit, but several parents who were told of the legal action as they picked up their children from school said they stood behind the school in offering the religious activities.
"I think it's absurd that anybody would sue over that," said Donna Crowson, as she sat in line to pick up her two grandchildren at Lakeview. "They have a right to do that, I believe. The child doesn't have to participate. Parents don't have to participate."
Other parents said they were drawn to the school because of its Christian activities.
Mike and Cindy Davison, who have a kindergartner at the school, moved to Mt. Juliet from Davidson County eight years ago. The environment at Lakeview was a big factor in the decision, they said.
"As far as the curriculum and the environment and the staff, it's as close to a private school as you can get. I believe that goes along with the Christian theme they have," said Cindy Davison, who said her family reads the Bible every day.
The suit names the Wilson County School System, the system's director, Jim Duncan; Lakeview Elementary School Principal Wendell Marlowe; Assistant Principal Yvonne Smith and school teacher Janet Adamson.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the suit seeks a preliminary injunction, asking that defendants be stopped from engaging in any future, similar religious activities. It also seeks attorneys' fees and compensatory or nominal damages for "emotional distress."
The suit says the parents repeatedly tried to discuss their concerns with school officials but were rebuffed and ultimately pulled their son out of school to home-school him.
The suit does not name the parents or child. It asks the court to allow the parents to pursue the action anonymously, saying "they fear community reprisals and attacks, and ostracism, and because their minor child, James Doe, remains of tender years and sensibilities

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