ACLU-TN v. Sumner County Board of Education

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(Case No. 3:11-cv-00408, U.S. District Court, Middle District, Nashville, Judge Sharpe)

ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorneys: George Barrett and Scott P. Tift of Barrett Johnston.

Plaintiffs: ACLU-TN, Jane Doe as the Natural Parent and Next Friend of her Minor Children; Jane Roe as the Natural Parent and Next Friend of her Minor Child; Jane Smith as the Natural Parent and Next Friend of her Minor Children; John and Jane Jones as the Natural Parents and Next Friends of their Children.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) represented the defendants.

Defendants: Sumner County Board of Education, members thereof; specific Administrators of various Sumner County Schools

In 2011, ACLU-TN filed a lawsuit on behalf of nine students attending five Sumner County schools alleging a pattern and practice of the promotion and endorsement of religious activity dating back as early as 2006.

This pattern and practice included teachers leading students in prayer and Bible study sessions; the opening of Sumner County schools to youth ministers who frequently proselytized to students at lunch tables and recruited them to attend their churches and ministries; the distribution of Bibles during instructional time; the display of a cross on a classroom wall; preferential treatment of religious organizations in their ability to distribute materials to students; predominantly religious songs at school musical performances; school events held at churches; and the opening of school board meetings with prayer.

In December 2011, the Sumner County Board of Education voted to enter into a consent decree with ACLU-TN. In accordance with the settlement, school officials can no longer promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Religious symbols and items may not be displayed in a place publicly visible to students. Teachers may supervise student clubs but can no longer lead religious activities and school officials cannot encourage or solicit prayer at school functions. School events may not be held in religious venues except under certain limited conditions. Religious officials such as youth ministers may not visit schools to recruit members or promote their religious beliefs to students. Groups wishing to distribute materials to students, such as Gideons International, must do so in a neutral way, minimizing contact with students, and no groups will be given preferential access to students. Non-religious clubs shall not have “chaplain” positions and all course materials and choral music must have a clear pedagogical purpose.

The decree ended the unconstitutional pattern and practice of religious activities in the Sumner County school system.

Related Documents

Press Releases

Sumner County Board of Education Ends Endorsement of Religion in Schools (December 7, 2011)

ACLU-TN Lawsuit Charges Widespread Religious Activities in Sumner Co. Schools (May 2, 2011)

Legal Documents

ACLU-TN v. Sumner County Board of Education – Consent Decree (December 7, 2011)

ACLU-TN v. Sumner County Board of Education – Complaint (November 14, 2011)