For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext .105, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, email@example.com
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Washington, D.C., Aug. 27, 2014)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter this morning responding to a letter from the Hall County School District, in Gainesville, Georgia, concerning the district’s policy and practice of permitting coaches to lead and participate in prayers with student football players and its insertion of biblical references on team documents and other official materials at Chestatee High School.
“While the superintendent’s informal memo to faculty last week reminding them that they cannot lead students in prayer at school-sponsored events was a good first step, we feel that further action is needed to ensure compliance with the Establishment Clause,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
The letter points out that the school district’s policy and practice of permitting coaches to participate in prayer with students is longstanding, pervasive and ongoing, referencing a recent photograph taken after AHA sent its initial letter depicting football coaches participating in a prayer with students at a football scrimmage between North Hall High School and Gilmer High School. It cites additional examples of Christian prayers being initiated by school officials during Chestatee High School marching band activities and prayers being led by high school wrestling coaches. The letter reminds the district that school faculty must neither lead nor participate in prayer with students at school-sponsored functions. School officials also have not yet addressed the promotion of Christianity through biblical references in Chestatee High School football team documents and promotional materials.
“School districts must uphold the separation of church and state to guarantee that the rights of all students, particularly of students of minority religions or no religion, are respected,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
To fully respond to the AHLC’s concerns, the letter strongly advises the school district to adopt a written policy prohibiting coaches, teachers and other school employees from participating in prayer with students; eliminate all religious references from team policies and documents, enforced by a written policy; and monitor games and practices to ensure that these policies are upheld.
A copy of the most recent letter sent by the AHLC can be viewed here.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.