The Sumner County Board of Education (SCBOE) has revised some of its policies, says the Tennessean, in response to an American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) suit charging that the board’s policies and practices promote Christianity. The suit alleges Sumner County School District (SCSD) has a widespread, unconstitutional pattern and practice of religious activities in schools.
The board recently approved changes to three policies directly dealing with allegations that (1) SCSD allowed Bibles to be distributed at two elementary schools; (2) a youth minister from a local Baptist church was allowed to proselytize to students at a middle school during lunch; and (3) teachers at another middle school led students in prayer during club meetings.
Schools will now either limit or eliminate student interaction with individuals distributing materials, such as Bibles, in order “to avoid coercion, proselytizing or the appearance of endorsement,” the policy states. School personnel must refrain from specifically promoting or announcing, to the exclusion of all other materials, the availability of another private organization’s materials.
Another policy revision spells out that visitors to schools may not approach or solicit students. Visitors present during the school day must only meet with the individuals they’re signed in to see; students are not, however, prohibited from voluntarily approaching visitors. School personnel serving as club sponsors are strictly prohibited from engaging in any conduct that creates the appearance of endorsement of the organization’s or club’s messages or ideas, but must only serve in a supervisory role.
Wesley Southerland, an attorney with the American Center for Law & Justice, which is representing SCBOE in the suit, denied that the revisions are a compromise with the ACLU-TN. Instead he characterized them as simply a clarification of policies and procedures. He also noted that it might be possible that more policies related to the allegations will be revised in the coming months. “We’re reviewing all the policies at this point and advising the board on how to proceed,” he said.
Source: Tennessean, 7/13/11, By Jennifer Easton
[Editor's Note: In April 2011, Legal Clips summarized the Tennessean's report on ACLU-TN's suit charging that SCBOE is promoting Christianity in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The article noted that ACLU-TN is representing a group of parents who allege that the school system has shown a pattern of endorsing religion since at least 2006.
The complaint provides several examples of the school system allegedly promoting Christianity, including the distribution of Bibles in at least two schools; a teacher who displayed a cross on a classroom wall; sectarian prayers over the loudspeaker and at school events; and graduation ceremonies for three high schools at Long Hollow Baptist Church.]