Heathens & Liberals

It never ceases to amaze me how such a tiny minority wants to dictate to the vast majority what we can and can not do.

Below is a letter sent to Lenoir City school superintendent, Wayne Miller from some two bit, idiotic group. It all leads back the one little atheist girl who didn't get her views published by the school paper. Be sure to read the entire letter.

For the millionth time, would somebody please show me where the Constitution says "separation of church and state?"

If this doesn't make you want to blow a gasket, nothing will. It's time to draw the line in the sand.

March 13, 2012
Wayne Miller
Lenoir City Schools Board of Education
2145 Harrison Ave.
Lenoir City, Tennessee 37771

Re: Official Prayers at Lenoir City Schools Board of Education Meetings

Mr. Miller:

I am writing to alert you to a serious separation of church and state concern. We have recently been informed that public meetings of the Lenoir City Board of Education regularly open with prayers. This practice is unconstitutional.

The American Humanist Association is a national nonprofit organization with over 10,000 members and 20,000 supporters across the country, including in Tennessee. Our purpose is to protect one of the most fundamental legal principles of our democracy: the constitutional mandate requiring separation of church and state, embodied in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

1 The very first sentence of the Bill of Rights mandates that the state be secular: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The Supreme Court has long made expressly clear that this provision, known as the Establishment Clause, "build[s] a wall of separation between church and State." See Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1878). Pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment the Establishment Clause applies to the states. See e.g. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940).

2 Please note that this constitutional requirement is also embodied in Lenoir City Board of Education Policy 4.803, which states "no religious belief or non-belief shall be promoted by the school system or its employees, and none shall be belittled."

Generally speaking, the Supreme Court has ruled that any governmental "practice which touches upon religion, if it is to be permissible under the Establishment Clause," must not among other things, "advance . . . religion." County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 590 (1989). Specifically, the government "may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization . . . [or] discriminate among persons on the basis of their religious beliefs." Id.2 Courts "pay particularly close attention to whether the challenged governmental practice either has the purpose or effect of [unconstitutionally] ‘endorsing’ religion." Id. at 591. Endorsement includes "conveying or attempting to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred." Id. at 593. Not only may the government not advance, promote, affiliate 2 with, endorse, prefer or favor any particular religion, it "may not favor religious belief [in general] over disbelief or adopt a preference for the dissemination of religious ideas." Id.

Turning to your particular practice of beginning public school board meetings with prayers, this is not an issue as to which there is any question of debate or interpretation. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Tennessee within its jurisdiction, has already clearly ruled that this practice is unconstitutional. See Coles v. Cleveland Bd. of Education, 171 F. 3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999) (stating that school board prayer is unconstitutional because "endorsement of religion is prohibited in the public schools context").

In addition, we have also been made aware of other unconstitutional practices in Lenoir City schools: the posting of daily Bible quotes in classrooms, prayers before athletic events and prayers at school graduation ceremonies. As you must surely be aware, the Supreme Court has previously ruled that each of these practices likewise violates the Establishment Clause. See Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) (holding that daily classroom recitation of an official prayer violates the Establishment Clause), and School District of Abington Tp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963) (holding that daily classroom Bible readings violate the Establishment Clause), Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992) (official prayers at school graduation violate the Establishment Clause), and Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) (school-promoted student-led prayer at school football games violates the Establishment Clause).

Your illegal pattern and practice of violating the Constitution, the most fundamental law of the land in our American democracy, must be abandoned, either voluntarily or, if necessary, under court order. It makes a mockery of the law and our most cherished rights and freedoms, including the secular state established by our Founding Fathers. Refusal to follow the Constitution is subject to liability under 42 U.S.C. §1983, including the payment of plaintiff’s attorney fees.

We respectfully request that you immediately cease beginning public meetings of Lenoir City Schools Board of Education with official prayers and abandon your other efforts to illegally promote Christianity in your school system in order to be in compliance with the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. All of your students deserve to feel welcome when at school or interacting with their local school board, not just those who share your religious beliefs. Beginning school board meetings with prayers produces the opposite effect, corroding the broad civic engagement that is fundamental to the proper functioning of our democratic form of government.

Please notify us in writing about the steps you are taking to end this constitutional violation so that we may avoid any potential litigation. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


William Burgess
Appignani Humanist Legal Center
American Humanist Association