NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – The American Civil Liberties of Tennessee filed a federal lawsuit May 2 alleging a pattern of promoting Christianity at public schools in Sumner County.
A complaint filed on behalf of nine students from four families and five different schools claims a pattern of unconstitutional religious activity dating back at least five years in the county’s schools. Alleged Establishment Clause violations include distributing Bibles in elementary schools, invocations at school board meetings, prayer over loudspeakers led by members of a student Bible club, teacher endorsement of religion and holding graduations and other school events in churches.
It also objects to allowing busing of students to a Southern Baptist church for activities like a celebration of the completion of comprehensive testing without permission from their parents and allowing a youth minister from the church, Long Hollow Baptist Church, to join students at a middle school for lunch at least once a week.
The ACLU of Tennessee notified the school district in December 2010 of numerous complaints alleging violations of the Establishment Clause in Sumner County Schools, but claims school officials continue to promote Christianity to a captive audience of students.
“The pattern and practice of school-sponsored religious activities in Sumner County is so egregious that we had no choice but to file this lawsuit,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the state’s ACLU branch.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based legal group founded in 1990 by televangelist Pat Robertson, has agreed to defend the school board.
“We’re confident that our client and its mission to educate children complies with the U.S. Constitution,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a blog on the group’s website. “We will vigorously defend the school system against the allegations in the ACLU complaint.”
Along with seeking nominal damages and attorney fees, the lawsuit sought a temporary injunction to stop a May 3 drug and alcohol awareness program held this year at Long Hollow Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist mega-church that averages 5,000 in weekend services held at three campuses north of Nashville. A federal judge denied the temporary restraining order, allowing the event to go on as scheduled.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.