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Humanists Demand an End to Teacher-Led Prayer Sessions at Missouri High School

Fayette High School Teacher Hosts Prayer Sessions for Students During School Hours

For Immediate Release

Contact: William Burgess, bburgess@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x 102

(Washington, DC, May 16, 2013) —The American Humanist Association’s legal center sent a letter to school officials in Fayette, Missouri, demanding they take steps to end weekly morning prayer sessions held by a teacher at Fayette High School (FHS).

“Students are encouraged to attend these sessions by an announcement made by the principal over the school’s intercom system,” the letter states. “These public school prayer sessions are clearly unconstitutional.”

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s letter, dated May 15, 2013, outlines the reasons why the Friday morning prayers organized and led by Gwen Pope, a FHS teacher, are unconstitutional. “Courts have … consistently ruled that the Establishment Clause prohibits teachers from leading, sponsoring, or participating in prayer with students, whether during school hours or not,” the letter points out. “Not only is leading students in prayer at school unconstitutional, so is ‘inviting or encouraging students to pray.’”

As well as conducting prayer sessions on school grounds during the school day, Mrs. Pope also “prominently displays Christian literature on her desk,” the letter reveals, also a constitutional violation.

“It is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause when a public school official acts in this manner,” said William Burgess, coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “School system administrators need to take immediate steps to stop these constitutional violations.”

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, representing a student at the school, has asked that school officials “terminate this and any similar illegal activity immediately.”

The letter can be found online here.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 160 local chapters and affiliates across America. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and The Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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