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Public Elementary School Allegedly Waged Shame Campaign Against Students Who Don’t Believe In God

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a non-religious family details a series of actions by teachers and administrators that, even if they were not designed specifically to humiliate the family’s children, certainly should be expected to have that effect.

According to a complaint filed on behalf of the family, who is identified as the “Does,” teachers at the Swainsboro Primary School in Swainsboro, Georgia “regularly led their classes in Christian prayer,” a practice that violates the Constitution’s First Amendment. When the Doe parents complained that their children’s kindergarten and first grade teachers were leading the class in unconstitutional prayers, their teachers allegedly “told the Doe children to leave their classrooms and sit in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed.” One of the children, a first grader, said that the teacher “used her mean voice” when she told the child to leave the classroom. Meanwhile, Cel Thompson, a kindergarten teacher, allegedly “announced to the entire kindergarten class that Jamie [Doe] was not allowed to pray to God and then told Jamie to wait in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed.”

The Doe parents eventually pulled Jamie from the school after the kindergartener complained about “feeling uncomfortable at school.” Meanwhile, the older student, who is identified in the complaint as “Jesse Doe,” remained at the public school, where teachers allegedly began to pressure the first grader to participate in the daily prayers. Jesse’s science teacher, according to the complaint, told Jesse to “make a good decision” about the unconstitutional prayers. The gym teacher also allegedly encouraged the first grader to simply give up and start praying with the class.

This pressure allegedly climaxed when Kaytrene Bright, Jesse’s homeroom teacher, held the child back from recess “to talk to Jesse about Bright’s personal conception of the Christian god.” According to the complaint, Bright told Jesse that the child’s mother “is a bad person for not believing in God.”

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On Monday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which spearheaded the lawsuit, announced in a press release that they have settled the suit. Under the terms of their agreement with the school district, “teachers have received educational training on their obligations not to promote religious beliefs in their classrooms and the Doe family has been financially compensated for harm they suffered.”

It is likely that the district agreed to the settlement because they had virtually no possibility of prevailing in court — at least precluding a significant shift in the Supreme Court’s membership. The justices recognized that school-sponsored prayers are “wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause” of the Constitution more than half-a-century ago, and the Does’ lawsuit presented a particularly egregious set of facts. Among other things, it is highly unusual for a public school teacher to attempt to turn a child against their own parents in an effort to coerce religious compliance.

(HT: Howard Friedman)