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No more school events in church sanctuaries

The Pike County school system’s legal council recently recommended avoiding church sanctuaries as locations for future programs after a citizen’s complaint. The Pike Auditorium has been under construction since fall 2022 as the facility is upgraded to meet ADA accessibility requirements.
At the start of a recent awards banquet held at a local church, a blessing was said by a parent.

“In response to that event, a community member filed a complaint with the Freedom From Religion Foundation,” said a press release from the school. “On May 11, 2023, the school district received a letter of concern from the Foundation, requesting that the district ‘ensure that no future school-sponsored events include prayer or take place in churches.’” 

Superintendent Dr. Michael Duncan forwarded the letter to the school system’s legal counsel. It said, in part, “A concerned parents has reported that Pike County Middle School coaches have been promoting their personal beliefs to students through the dance program. We understand the dance team’s end of season banquet was held in a church March 7. Our complaintant reports that they objected to this public school event being held in a church but were assured there would be no religious activity taking place. At the event, they were informed that there would be a formal prayer held and they immediately objected to this imposition of religious worship onto students and parents by the district. Our complaintant’s objection was ignored and a formal prayer was said during the event.”

The letter from attorney Christopher Line of the FFRF asked that no future school-sponsored events include prayer of take place in churches. It listed several legal cases, stating that it is a basic constitutional principle that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion.

The Pike school system later emailed a message regarding school policy to parents and community partners.

“Acting on advice of counsel, the school system and associated student organizations will continue to work with our faith-based partners and are extremely grateful for their willingness to host so many of our activities,” it said. “The change will be that the district and its student organizations will no longer plan activities that are designed to be held in those areas specifically designated for worship. These groups will confine their use to spaces such as gyms and fellowship halls.”

“In response to the question of prayer for school-related events, there will be no plan for a prayer on the agenda for any event. Prayer will not be led by district employees, nor will they designate students or parents to lead prayer. It would also be a violation of the law for the district or its employees to prevent anyone from praying who chooses to do so,” said the press release.

“Pike County Schools and their student organizations have a long tradition of working with many community entities, including our faith-based community. The district is very proud of the partnerships that have been developed over the years and hopes that they will continue to grow. We all want what is best for our students. However, the school system is not eager to enter into a protracted legal battle centering on a constitutional question for which there is already an abundance of legal precedent.”

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