Atheist group demands public school ban baccalaureate, prayer ceremonies

Atheist group demands public school ban baccalaureate, prayer ceremonies
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims to be the largest atheist group in the U.S., is pushing Opp City Schools in Opp, Alabama, to do away with its baccalaureate services because it violates the U.S. Constitution. (Getty Images)

References to God and prayer have put one Alabama school district in the crosshairs of one of the largest atheist organizations in the United States.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint last week to the superintendent of Opp City Schools in Opp, Alabama, after it was discovered that a district principal delivered a baccalaureate speech last month that included prayer, Scripture reading, and references to God.

FFRF staff attorney Sam Grover addressed the Opp High School principal’s religious references in a letter sent to Superintendent Michael Smithart. Grover said the atheist group learned of the issue from a “concerned district community member.”

“Baccalaureate programs are religious services that include prayer and worship. Schools may not in any way plan, design, or supervise baccalaureate programs,” Grover wrote. “To avoid the perception of school sponsorship of religious practices, the district must immediately end all involvement with the baccalaureate.”

Moving forward, the FFRF demanded the school district sever all ties with the religious service.

“To avoid the perception of school sponsorship of religious practices,” Grover wrote, “the district must immediately end all involvement with the baccalaureate. This means that no public school employees can be involved in further hosting, organization, planning, or coordination of the event.”

The FFRF also took issue with prayer being included in any of the graduation exercises because the district “has a legal duty to remain neutral toward religion.”

“It makes no difference how many students want religious speeches or wouldn’t be offended by them at their graduation,” Grover asserted. “A graduation should be a celebration for all students, not an exercise in alienating nonreligious students with a Christian message.”

As far as a possible legal battle over the matter, Smithart said in a statement to TheBlaze that “there’s no mention in the letter about a possible lawsuit, as falsely reported in the media over the weekend.” He said the complaint has been turned over to the school board attorney “for an appropriate response.”

“It is a little interesting to me that, apparently, [the FFRF] released a letter to the national media at the same time they sent it to us,” Smithart said, referring to the national attention the district has garnered in recent days.

Opp School District Al by Tré Goins-Phillips on Scribd

Opp City Schools is not the only school district garnering criticism for faith-based expression.

In Missouri, Willard School District Superintendent Kent Medlin apologized after facing backlash for reportedly quoting Bible verses and crediting his “savior” during the high school’s graduation ceremony in May.

“He asked students to stand up and pray as a Christian, quoting the Bible numerous times throughout. Many students felt extremely ostracized by the situation, when choosing not to pray,” graduate Ashlynn Bradley said, adding that Medlin “invited students to his office for coffee to discuss ‘the Lord.’

“This was incredibly inappropriate,” she said.

Ultimately, Medlin, who was retiring, was told to vacate his post a month early.

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