An atheist group recently objected to the principal of an elementary school in Mississippi instructing teachers of the fifth-grade to take their students through the lobby, where Gideons were distributing copies of the Bible. On October 14, the American Humanist Association (AHA) wrote a letter of complaint to Kara Killough, who is the principal of Northwest Rankin Elementary School on the outskirts of Jackson, as well as other Rankin County School District officials.
The Washington-based organization said the elementary school violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on religion inside government establishments by making it possible for Gideons to distribute Bibles on campus. In 2013, AHA had sued the same school district for conducting religious assemblies. According to the organization, permitting Gideons to distribute Bibles on school grounds violates the agreement that settled the earlier lawsuit.
In the complaint letter sent to school district officials, Monica Miller, AHA attorney, quoted from an email that was sent out by Killough on October 7.
Among the day’s planned events, the principal’s letter said that on October 10, “Gideons will set up in the lobby of the fifth grade building at 7:35. Fifth grade teachers — please walk your class through the lobby at that time.”
AHA said many courts, including the Fifth United States Circuit Court of Appeals, which looks into cases from Mississippi, have ruled that government bodies have in the past violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by helping Gideons and similar groups hand out Bibles.
At Northwest Rankin Elementary, “the teachers were not merely passive observers but were expressly instructed to assist the Gideons by making the children walk through the lobby where the Bibles were distributed,” Miller wrote. “We are troubled by the school district's complete disregard for the Establishment Clause and the rights of religious minorities in the district. … The school's recent actions also demonstrate a complete disregard for the Consent Decree, or worse, an intentional unwillingness to comply with its terms.”
This is not the first time that the AHA has accused this particular school district of violating the consent decree in the lawsuit that emerged after their victory in the previous case. Earlier this year, the organization supported a student from the same elementary school who said she was pressured by superintendent Lynn Weathersby and other teachers to participate in a prayer during Easter.
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