Religious Activities in Schools Jeopardized Religious Liberty
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2, 2010
CONTACT: Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee, (615) 320-7142
NASHVILLE – The Cheatham County Board of Education voted last night to enter into an agreed order with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) that ends the unconstitutional pattern and practice of religious activities in the Cheatham County School System.
The settlement was agreed on after ACLU-TN filed a lawsuit against the school district on November 16, 2009 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. ACLU-TN filed the lawsuit after six months of negotiations with the school district failed to create any change in school policies.
ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney George Barrett, on behalf of Barrett, Johnston & Parsley, said, “Now the students of Cheatham County can exercise their Constitutional right to make religious decisions with their families and faith communities, free from fear of coercion by school officials.”
In accordance with the settlement, school officials will no longer encourage prayer or promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or in conjunction with school activities and events. Invocations will no longer be permitted at graduation ceremonies or school functions and speakers will no longer be selected because of their religious affiliations. In addition, school officials will no longer permit non-student third parties, such as members of Gideons International, to distribute sacred texts during school activities or instructional time. School officials will not cite the Bible or other sacred texts as authority for historical or scientific fact to students and will make good faith efforts to avoid holding school programs at religious venues.
The ACLU-TN lawsuit, John and Jane Doe et al v. The Cheatham County Board of Education et al., was filed on behalf of two former students and two families of current students and alleged a pattern and practice of the promotion and endorsement of religious activity dating back as early as 2001. This pattern and practice included the distribution of Gideons Bibles in the classrooms, teacher-endorsed prayer before football games and school-sponsored prayer at graduation ceremonies. The complaint also alleged the teaching of creationism and intelligent design as well as the display of a cross on the wall in a high school classroom.
“We applaud the Cheatham County Board of Education’s decision to uphold the principle of religious freedom,” Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director, said. “The signed agreement ensures that all students will be treated fairly, regardless of their religious beliefs, and that the school system can focus on what it does best: providing a quality education for Cheatham County students.”
In addition to Barrett, the Does were represented by Doug Johnston of Barrett, Johnston & Parsley, Joseph Kelly and William Helou of MGLAW, PLLC and Tricia Herzfeld of ACLU-TN.
A copy of the lawsuit is available online here.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available here.