American Humanist Society Wins Religion Lawsuit Against School
by Temerity Forthright
In 2015, the American Humanist Society filed suit challenging the Joplin (Missouri) Public School District for sending students from a middle school on two “unconstitutional field trips to a faith-based sports complex.” Earlier this month a federal judge ruled in favor of the AHA. The settlement has not been determined.
The lawsuit stemmed from two field trips taken by a Joplin, Missouri, middle school. Students went on the trips as a reward for good grades and positive behavior.
In order for students to go on the field trip, parents or guardians had to sign a permission slip. That form stated the field trip destination and nature of the activities while students were at the sports complex. In other words, if parents had a problem with the field trip, they could opt out.
The court said in its March 2016 ruling, “Here, the Joplin District made its students available to Victory (sports complex), and as a result subject to its religious messages at public expense, during the school day. While defendants claim no direct sharing of religious messages occurred during the field trips, the plain and unequivocal language of the waiver and release form permits Victory to invite students to Bible studies and local churches, and for students to actually participate in worship service, Bible studies, and any other activity pertaining to the Christian faith.”
This is not the only lawsuit the AHA filed against Joplin Schools. The AHA alleged that a middle school in Joplin, Missouri, served donuts as a “bribe” to get students to attend a Bible Study held before classes begin. According to AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt, “Enticing students to Bible Study with donuts is deceitful and inappropriate during school hours.”
The Joplin School District prevailed in that lawsuit. They agreed, however, to modify the terms of their agreement with the Bible Study group to comply with new school guidelines for student groups meeting before and after school.
In an article I posted on December 22, 2016, about the donut bribing lawsuit, I listed a host of field trips taken by other U.S. school districts to various religious sites. In some instances, school districts required students to participate in Muslim-related activities in the classroom – without their parent’s knowledge or permission. Read –
During the 2014-15 school year, La Plata High School (Maryland) students were required to recite in class the 5 Pillars of Islam, which professes the Muslim faith. Essentially, the students were converted to Islam in their classroom.
Two issues seem to be in play here. The AHA filed both lawsuits based on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This prohibits Congress from passing laws respecting the “establishment” of religion.
The other issue is the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects our basic freedoms. In the 1969 Supreme Court decision Tinker v Des Moines, the Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the rights of students, including Freedom of Religion, should be protected. The majority opinion said in part, “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate.”
While the government cannot promote religion, especially favoring one religion over another, it cannot prevent an individual from expressing his or her own personal faith.
School districts across the country seem to have no problem enlightening students to the wonderful and peaceful religion of Islam, even requiring them to participate in Muslim religious activities in the classroom. But let a student bring a Bible to school ….
It seems these lawsuits are not about stopping the promotion of religion in general in public schools, just Christianity in particular.