(No. 3:09-cv-01099,U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Judge Robert Echols)
ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorneys: George Barrett and Doug Johnston, Barrett, Johnston & Parsley; Joseph Kelly and William Helou, The MG Law Firm. (Direct Representation)
Plaintiffs: John Doe and Jane Doe, as the Natural Parents and Next Friends of Their Minor Child, Jennifer Doe; James and Julie Doe, as the Natural Parents and Next Friends of their Minor Child, Jamie Doe; Jackie Doe; and Jessica Doe
Defendants: The Cheatham County Board of Education; Diane Williams, Interim Director of Schools for the Cheatham County Board of Education; Michelle Collins, Member, Cheatham County Board of Education; Greg Horton, Member, Cheatham County Board of Education; Tammie Lavender, Member, Cheatham County Board of Education; Dianne Proffitt, Chair, Cheatham County Board of Education; Chris Spiegl, Member, Cheatham County Board of Education; Tim Williamson, Member, Cheatham County Board of Education; Tim Ray, Principal, Sycamore High School; and Robin Norris, Principal, Cheatham Middle School
In May 2009, ACLU-TN was contacted by Mr. Doe, who was upset by rumors that there would be a planned graduation prayer by the Christian Student Athlete of the Year at the upcoming high school graduation ceremony. After his children were exposed to additional religious activities in the days leading up to the graduation ceremony, Mr. Doe contacted us again to see if it was possible to file for a temporary restraining order to stop the graduation prayer.
In an effort to resolve the case without litigation, ACLU-TN contacted the attorney for the school board to discuss the situation at the graduation, which was scheduled to take place in less than eighteen hours. The attorney assured us that the director of schools had removed that portion of the program and sent out a stern email to all staff telling them that no such prayer was to take place and that they should report any rumors about one to her immediately. On that assurance, we chose not to file for a temporary restraining order.
Despite these assurances, a graduation prayer took place exactly as had been planned prior to our involvement. The only change was that the prayer no longer appeared in the program.
Mr. Doe contacted us to obtain an injunction to prohibit graduation prayer specifically and to stop many other religious activities taking place in Cheatham County schools. In the meantime, ACLU-TN was contacted by another Cheatham County family who was upset about a variety of religious activities taking place in their child’s Cheatham County public school, including the distribution of Bibles to students during class time.
ACLU-TN spent the next six months attempting to negotiate a policy change with the school board, but ultimately was unable to reach an amicable resolution.
In November 2009, ACLU-TN filed a lawsuit alleging a pattern and practice of religious activities occurring throughout the district on behalf of two current students (one at Sycamore High School and one at Cheatham Middle School), their parents, and two former Sycamore High School students. The complaint 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 a high school classroom wall.
On March 1, 2010, the Cheatham County Board of Education voted to enter into an agreed order with ACLU-TN that ended the unconstitutional pattern and practice of religious activities in the Cheatham County School System.
Doe, et. al. v. Cheatham County Board of Education, et al. – Complaint (November 16, 2009)