Sumner schools accused of boost for Christianity

Sumner schools accused of boost for Christianity

April 28th, 2011 by Associated Press in News

GALLATIN, Tenn. - Three Sumner County families are accusing the local public schools of illegally promoting Christianity through Bible giveaways and prayers since at least 2006.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, on behalf of the families, has sent a complaint about the activities to the Sumner County Board of Education. The complaint requests the board stop the religious activities, but it is not a lawsuit.

"At this point we are aware of the allegations, and we have advised the Board of Education to take all precautions necessary to make sure they are operating in a constitutional way," school board attorney Wesley Southerland told The Tennessean. Southerland, an attorney with the nonprofit American Center for Law and Justice, was retained by the board last week and is helping the school district pro bono.

One of the allegations outlined in the complaint is that members of a Bible study club at Madison Creek Elementary were permitted to "pray over the loudspeaker for all school children to hear" on a daily basis. Principal Robin Hood denied the allegations, saying the school observes a moment of silence but does not broadcast prayers.

The complaint also alleges students at Indian Lake Elementary were instructed to line up outside their classrooms and pick up a Bible from a table, if they wanted one. The children then were instructed by their teacher to write their names in the Bibles. Indian Lake Elementary Principal Jewell McGhee declined to comment.

At T.W. Hunter Middle School, a youth minister from a local Baptist church makes the rounds of the lunch room to proselytize at least once a week, according to the complaint.

"He visits every table in the cafeteria, joining students as they eat lunch (whether invited or not) and speaks to them about his church, his ministry and faith in Jesus," the complaint states.

And the complaint claims the same church threw a party for Hunter students in which they were taken on county school buses to the church for a day of movies, treats and games. Those who did not wish to attend remained at the school, where they were given additional work.

Principal Ahmed White did not return calls for comment.

The complaint states that the ACLU of Tennessee made Director of Schools Benny Bills aware of the issues in December but he has done nothing to address them.

ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney Tricia Herzfeld declined to comment.

The group successfully sued the Wilson County school system over similar issues in 2008.