Written by Don Byrd
The Washington County school district in Florida is responding to allegations of sweeping church-state violations after a letter from the Freedom From Religious Foundation (FFRF) detailed a complaint sent by a resident. The dispute not only raises constitutional issues, it also calls into question the impact of a new Florida law which purports to expand student religious liberties.
The Panama City News Herald reports:
According to the letter from FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel, complaints include teachers “requiring students to transcribe from the [Bible’s] Book of John,” failure to address bullying and death threats targeted at non-religious students, a teacher “promoting the sale of religious t-shirts” bearing a Bible verse, a banner through which student athletes entered the playing field displaying a Bible verse, and a Facebook page being used to “promote the religious views of the Vernon High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”
“We have been informed of more violations,” the letter reads, adding the school’s actions are unconstitutional and citing various U.S. Supreme Court cases.
When contacted by reporters, the Vernon, Florida resident who sent the complaint to FFRF emphasized that they were not doing so out of an anti-religion view.
“I did not complain about these incidents at Vernon because I hate religion or God; quite the opposite,” the resident wrote. “In this country, we have the freedom to practice any faith we choose, or none at all. The problem with religion in schools is that you run the risk of a Catholic teacher confusing Baptist students, or a Lutheran teacher confusing Mormon students, or a Buddhist teacher confusing Muslim students. Religion should be taught in church and in the home, not in the school.”
A new Florida law went into effect on July 1 that addresses student religious liberties. Many observers argue the law merely re-states freedoms already protected under the First Amendment, and serves only to provide confusion to school administrators, educators, students, and parents. Washington County’s attorney has informed FFRF about the law and reportedly is in the process of determining “what, if any, rights this law grants that are consistent with established constitutional principles and to direct our clients accordingly.”
The law requires the state to issue model policies for each school district. Those have not yet been distributed.