By CHARLES MYRICK
A letter to Knox County Public Schools is calling for an end to alleged “ongoing constitutional violations.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation posted a statement on its website Monday stating it has written Knox County Public Schools for what it calls First Amendment reaches. Allegedly, the Freedom From Religion Foundation also sent a letter to the school system in July 2017.
According to the statement from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, parents in the school district complained about prayers over loudspeakers at Knox Central football games by local pastors. According to the letter, this is in violation of the Establishments Clause. “The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over a loudspeaker at public school athletic events.”
“Knox County Public Schools has routinely flouted its obligations under the Establishment Clause,” stated Freedom From Religion Foundation Legal Fellow Colin McNamara. “This is not only constitutionally impermissible, it also alienates the 45 percent of Americans born after 1987—i.e., your students—who are non-Christian.”
Officials with Knox County Public Schools issued a statement Tuesday regarding the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation: “We have received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation and are currently reviewing its contents. Once the district has conducted its own investigation and review of policy, we will provide a response to the organization.”
The allegations haven’t set well with several local ministers, who spoke out to The Mountain Advocate regarding the Foundation’s letter.
“The FFRF is constantly pushing limits trying to forbid anything Christian, stating constantly ‘The separation of church and state,’” said Shane Martin, Youth/Outreach Pastor with Hopewell Baptist Church and Campus Coach for First Priority at Lynn Camp Middle School, as well as Football Chaplain for Lynn Camp High School. “Which is not constitutional by the way. They thrust their atheist views upon mostly Christian societies, especially here in the Bible Belt. I would like to remind the readers that the separation of church and state isn’t in the constitution and was simply a statement from Thomas Jefferson written to a Baptist association in Connecticut. Jefferson wrote, ‘I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.’”
One local pastor says that the very freedoms sought by the founders of the United States are at risk. “Those who are familiar with United States history understand that the First Amendment contained within the Bill of Rights is meant to protect the ‘church’ from the ‘state’ not the ‘state’ from the ‘church,’” said Josh Smith, pastor of East Barbourville Baptist Church. “All of us would do well to remember that the early settlers came to America in search of a land that was free from religious persecution like that which is being threatened today by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
Also addressed in the letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, religious clubs such as First Priority at local elementary schools and high schools are unconstitutional in that it “interferes with the first class of the day.” Programs like First Priority, however, are completely voluntary for students to attend before the school day begins. Activities with First Priority are student-led, and involve a campus pastor and a faculty sponsor. The faculty member is not in an official position of authority over students at any time during First Priority meetings. “…This is a club lead by students. It is their constitutional right to do so,” said Martin. “Our students have every right to bring their bible to school, which the FFRF puckered at in their article, as well as clubs posting things on Facebook. They mention the See You At The Pole rallies that are held at different schools where prayer is held. Prayer for protection, prayer for the leaders, prayer for the students, you know, all kinds of selfish-unheard of things!”
“No one is forced to go to a First Priority meeting. No one is forced to pray to a God they don’t believe in. No one is forced to listen to someone pray for protection for athletes as they play their game,” said Martin. “So, what is it? The bottom line is this; there are people trying to push God out of every sector in America.”
“It is an unfortunate day for our district and our students when the harmless liberties of many are called into question because of the harmful complaining of but a few,” said Smith.
By CHARLES MYRICK