Court prohibits Tennessee school district from pushing religion on children

SMITH COUNTY, Tenn. — A federal court filed an injunction on Monday that prohibits a Tennessee school district from imposing religion on students.

In a consent decree in federal court in Nashville, the Smith County School District admitted that Christian prayers were delivered over the school’s public address system and Bibles were distributed to fifth graders, The Associated Press reported.

A consent decree is an injunction that the school district accepted to resolve a lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Tennessee, The Manchester Times reported.

The ACLU brought the suit on behalf of two families, alleging that school officials regularly incorporated prayer into school events in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the newspaper reported.

“School officials may not incorporate official prayer into school events, pray with students, or encourage or promote student prayer,” according to a news release from ACLU-TN. “They also are prohibited from promoting their personal religious beliefs to students, posting religious iconography, and inviting outside guests or third parties to pray during school events, proselytize students, or distribute religious literature to students in class.

“The unconstitutional activities reported by the families spanned several school years and included, among other practices, school-directed prayer during mandatory assemblies; the distribution and display of Bibles during classes; Bible verses posted in hallways and shared in notes from school staff to students; prayers broadcast through loudspeakers at school sporting events; coaches leading or participating in prayer with student athletes; and a large Latin cross painted on the wall of a school athletic facility,” the release said.

“I’m relieved the school district recognized that its widespread promotion of religion was unconstitutional,” plaintiff Kelly Butler said in a news release. “My children, and all children, deserve an education that is free from the type of religious coercion that our family has suffered.”

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