Humanist group demands end to teacher-led prayers at Fayette High School

The American Humanist Association is demanding that weekly prayer sessions at Fayette High School be stopped on grounds that they are unconstitutional.

Stock image of school supplies.

Stock image of school supplies.

A student at the school submitted a complaint to the association website, and the association sent a letter to the school on Wednesday. According to the letter, teacher Gwen Pope leads students in morning devotionals and prayers at 7:30 on Friday mornings in her classroom.

“The big concern here is that we have a teacher using her governmental position to promote her religous beliefs to public school students,” said William Burgess, the director of the legal center for the American Humanist Association. He said this goes against separation of church and state, as the public school is part of the state system.

“Yes, it’s peopled by employees who are individuals and have of course their own right to their private religious practices, but they cannot bring them into the classroom, and they cannot use their position to promotte their beliefs to their students.”

Burgess said this does not mean that students can’t pray privately.

“They have the right to pray when they are taking a test, or talking to their friends, or before they eat their lunch, or anything else they are doing,” he said. “They are not allowed to gather together and use the school facilities and be encouraged by school a employes like a teacher to pray. That’s the real problem here. It’s the schools involvement that makes this unconstitutional.”

According to the letter, the school could be sued in federal court. Principals and teachers might also be subject to lawsuits. The center has asked the school to stop the activity immediately. As of Thursday afternoon, Burgess said the American Humanist Association hadn’t heard back from the school.

Principal Darren Rapert said the school has no comment at this time – Superintendent Jim Judd, who acts as the spokesperson, was out of the district for the day.

About Kellie Moore

Kellie Moore (formerly Kotraba) served as the editor and community manager of Columbia Faith & Values through summer 2014. Although she is originally from the West – Nevada and California – she’s now proud to call Missouri home. She currently teaches English at Fr. Tolton High School.

6 Responses to “Humanist group demands end to teacher-led prayers at Fayette High School”

  1. Tony Lakey

    Kudos to that student. It takes a lot of courage to combat unconstitutional behavior such as this. Jessica Ahlquist received national attention after challenging a christian prayer banner hung in her public high school and since received many threats and has been the subject of abhorrent discrimination. When supporters attempted to send her flowers, all of the florists in her area refused. Her state representative even called her an “evil little thing” for daring to challenge such a marginalizing institution. I hope things turn out better for this student and that they are not the victim of such harsh treatment for merely trying to do what they think is right.

  2. Ci Cyfarth

    It takes a lot of courage to stand up in a space as a religious minority when the law is being violated. My hope is that the Fayette school board uses this as an opportunity to make positive changes rather than to draw battle lines.

  3. William R. Dickson

    Thumbs up to this student. And thumbs up to the FFRF, the Secular Students Alliance, and the young people who have begun bringing these complaints in increasing numbers to help make the path easier for each student who follows them.

  4. William R. Dickson

    Er, and thumbs up to the AHA, which is actually doing the legwork on this one.

    Sorry, AHA. It’s early. I’m tired.

  5. Spokane Faith & Values

    Nice coverage Kellie!

  6. Humanist group files lawsuit over prayer in public high school | Columbia Faith & Values

    […] The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the school in May. […]


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