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NASHVILLE – In an effort to protect the religious freedom of all public school students, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent a letter to the Cannon County REACH after-school program explaining that students have a constitutional right to read religious texts of their own volition during free-reading periods. The letter was sent on behalf of a boy who was allegedly prohibited from reading his Bible by the program.
"The First Amendment exists to protect religious freedom," said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. "While this means that schools may not impose or promote religion, it also means that students can engage in religious activities that they initiate, provided they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students."
ACLU-TN sent the letter on behalf of a Cannon County family who reported that REACH staff told their elementary-school-aged son that he could read any book except the Bible and that he would have to put the Bible away. When he refused, staff tried to take his Bible from him, mistakenly claiming that the state could shut the program down if they allowed him to read it.
"ACLU-TN has a long-standing commitment to uphold and defend Tennesseans’ ability to practice religion, or not, as they choose," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. "The goal of our letter is to clarify for the REACH program what seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Constitution protects religious liberty."
ACLU-TN’s letter requests that the REACH program train its employees on "their obligation under the law to safeguard their students’ religious liberties without imposing religion on them." The letter also requests that the child be allowed to read his Bible during free read periods and other student activity time.
A copy of ACLU-TN’s letter can be found here.