The First Amendment triumphed in federal court thanks to the efforts of two students and a mother to stop Christian proselytizing in a Fayette, Missouri school.
“The Fayette R-III School District shall be permanently enjoined from promoting prayer or religious activity as prohibited by the First Amendment,” reads a section of the consent decree signed as part of the legal settlement.
As reported by the Columbia Daily Tribune, the school had a habit of announcing weekly prayer meetings and allowing a Christian student group to meet before classes while other clubs were not allowed to do so. The complaint, filed by the American Humanist Association on behalf of the plaintiffs, named not only the Fayette R-III School District and Principal Darren Rapert, but teacher Gwen Pope, the sponsor of the Christian student club. Pope was alleged to have prayed with students and displayed personal religious materials in her classroom. The Tribune story notes that Pope is no longer with the district.
The consent decree issued by U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey also requires extensive revisions to the district’s Student Teacher handbook, which governs student organizations, meeting times, and announcements.
The defendants apparently remained defiant:
“After months of investigation and interviews the district determined that virtually every allegation made by the plaintiffs was false, misleading or taken out of context,” Superintendent Tamara Kimball said in a statement issued in response to questions about the settlement. “As a result, the district agreed that the one allegation we did confirm as accurate, the content of the morning announcement, would be a simple concession to make so we could put this lawsuit behind us and continue our mission of educating students.”
However, AHA Legal Director David Niose disagrees.
“It’s very well established that schools can’t be promoting prayers or sponsoring prayers or anything like that, so to get over the intercom and say ‘Morning devotionals are occurring down at Mrs. So-and-so’s room,’ that’s just not appropriate.”
As Fayette High School student Gavin Hunt, one of the plaintiffs, wrote on the American Humanist Association website back in December:
“In this lawsuit, I am challenging my school’s longstanding practice of allowing teachers to pray with students and to participate in Christian student group meetings during the school day. The way in which faith is regarded at Fayette High School is as a status symbol. To them, claiming to be a part of the religion is more important than abiding by the rules of it. If you don’t belong to that particular faith, you’ll be alienated by your peers, and possibly your teachers. This conduct is divisive, and serves no purpose other than displaying an illusory superiority.”
We can only hope the plaintiff’s team next tackles on that notorious revision made to the Pledge of Allegiance. You know the one – “under God.”