American Humanist Association Scores Religious Freedom Victory in Civil Rights Case with Oklahoma School
For Immediate Release
Contact: Sarah LaReau, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Washington, DC, April 20, 2023) Counsel for the American Humanist Association (AHA) reached a settlement with Maryetta Public Schools in Adair County, Oklahoma in a lawsuit involving forced religious education of preschool- and elementary-aged children. Maryetta Public Schools admitted the “Missionaries” program violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by mandating young students participate in evangelistic religious activities and have ended the program permanently.
For decades, Maryetta Public Schools brought Christian missionaries into classrooms for a monthly hour-long class called “Missionaries.” During this class, three “Missionaries” proselytized Christianity to a captive audience of prekindergarten through eighth grade students. Students were given bibles and coloring books, and led in singing songs about Jesus, all during school hours and under the direct authority of school officials. Non-Christian students were forced to attend this class without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
As part of the settlement agreement, the School will issue a public statement recognizing the constitutional violation of the program and affirming that it will not be reinstated; Oklahoma school administrators will be informed how to avoid violating the First Amendment; and school districts statewide will be educated on their responsibilities under the Establishment Clause.
The school also agreed to pay damages to the family of a former Maryetta School student who was subjected to nearly a dozen Missionaries classes as a preschooler. The child and her family are humanists and members of the Cherokee Nation, but during more than one Missionaries class, she was forced to feign belief in the Christian god and told she would “get in trouble” if she said god did not exist.
“As a native Oklahoman, I know from personal experience how hard it can be to raise children as part of a religious minority,” said local counsel James M. Branum of Oklahoma City. “People of minority religious traditions (and of no faith) should not have to fear that their children will face involuntary religious indoctrination if they attend public schools.”
“This case highlights the continued importance of the wall separating church and state. Considering nominal damages of $1 are common in First Amendment cases, $12,000 in damages in this case is significant.” said AHA Senior Counsel, Katie McKerall. “It reaffirms the right of freedom of conscience for all. It is a victory for our clients, who have shown immense courage to challenge prejudices and preconceived notions, despite the public backlash and intimidation they faced. It is also a victory for education, understanding, and tolerance, because the settlement agreement provides that educational materials outlining schools’ responsibilities under the Establishment Clause will be provided to school districts across the state of Oklahoma. Countering misinformation with education about the true meaning of the First Amendment will reduce the likelihood that this kind of egregious constitutional violation will happen again.”
Read the original complaint here.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity. Learn more at www.americanhumanist.org