ACLU of Tennessee Fights for Religious Freedom in Wilson County Public School

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
September 27, 2006 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE – Acting on behalf of a Wilson County family, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today asked a federal court to end practices by teachers and other officials that put pressure on students to engage in religious activities at Lakeview Elementary School.

The ACLU said it is bringing the lawsuit after repeated attempts by the family to end the school-sponsored religious activities, which they believe interfere with their right to religious freedom.

“It is unfortunate that we had to go to court to protect religious freedom but we had no other choice. We are pursuing this lawsuit so that Wilson County residents can decide for themselves whether or not they want to practice a particular religious faith,” said ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

School administrators repeatedly disregarded the family’s requests and continued to promote and sponsor activities like “Prayer at the Flag Pole” and “Praying Parents,” whose members enter classrooms and tell students that they have prayed for them. Rather than taking the family’s requests seriously, the school administrators encouraged the family to withdraw their child from the school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU of Tennessee argues that the pattern and practice of promoting and endorsing religious activities by the Wilson County public school system is unconstitutional. In addition to “Praying Parents” and “Prayer at the Flag Pole,” the Wilson County school system promotes a range of religious activities, including a National Day of Prayer event and teacher-led classroom prayers, according to the lawsuit.

“Families have the right to decide for themselves whether to pray, when to pray, how to pray, and where to pray. It is the role of the family not the public school to make those very personal decisions,” added Weinberg. “By promoting their own personal beliefs, Lakeview officials are broadcasting a divisive message to the religiously pluralistic community of Wilson County.”

The ACLU filed today’s lawsuit, John Doe and Jane Doe v. Wilson County School System, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The family wishes to remain anonymous because they fear for their child’s safety. The ACLU said the fact that the family does not want to be identified for fear of reprisals further demonstrates the divisions created in a community when the government takes sides on religious issues.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the Wilson County School System; Dr. Jim Duncan, Director of Wilson County Schools; Wendell Marlowe, Principal of Lakeview Elementary School; Yvonne Smith, Assistant Principal of Lakeview Elementary School; and Janet Adamson, teacher at Lakeview Elementary School.

The plaintiffs are represented by ACLU of Tennessee cooperating attorneys Edmund J. Schmidt III and Susan L. Kay.

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