ACLU files suit against Cheatham County schools

Monday, November 16, 2009 at 6:43pm

Attorneys backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee have filed suit in federal court against the Cheatham County Board of Education for its alleged unconstitutional pattern and practice of religious activities.

Filed on behalf of two former students and parents of two current students, the suit contends employees at Sycamore High School and Cheatham Middle School violated the constitution’s First Amendment through sponsoring a series of religious activities dating back as early as 2001. Lawyers are seeking injunctive relief.

Accusations include the distribution of the Gideon’s Bibles in classrooms, teacher-endorsed prayer before football games and school-sponsored prayer at graduation ceremonies. All four plaintiffs are protected by anonymity.

“There seems to be a growing habit among public school systems in Middle Tennessee to sort of flout the First Amendment right of freedom of religion,” said veteran civil rights attorney George Barrett.

“We’d be happy to talk to the school board and talk about some reasonable rules and regulations to prevent this,” he said. “We’re not interested in embarrassing anybody.”

Allen Woods, who’s law firm is providing counsel to the Cheatham County school board, said all board actions have been in compliance with the recommendations of the Tennessee School Board Association, as well as state and federal law.

“No policy or action taken by any Cheatham County school either endorsed a specific religion or interfered with the free exercise of religion by any of the students of the public schools,” Woods said.

Diane Williams, the district’s interim director schools, could not be reached for comment.

Barrett said the school system’s “most egregious” religious-sponsored incident came when promoters of Gideons International, a Protestant evangelical organization, took class time to pass out their versions of the Bible to students.

Cheatham County school leaders have also continually used prayer during school functions, he said, including at a recent graduation despite assurance from the school’s legal counsel that prayer would be removed from the ceremony.

“We approached the schools and conferred with counsel from the school board,” Barrett said. “He assured us it would not take place this school year.

“I think we’ll get their attention now,” Barrett said of the suit.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said the plaintiffs originally contacted the school system on their own and sought help when “they were just to the point when their voices weren’t being heard.

“Our mission is to protect and promote religious freedom for all Tennesseans,” Weinberg said. “And sometimes we have to actually go into court to do that.”

The suit comes on the heels of a similar case filed three year ago against Wilson County Schools in which a federal judge in 2008 ruled the district illegally promoted religion before ruling over the summer the district can’t ban religious phrases from posters.


Filed under: City News

40 Comments on this post:

By: voteoutbartgordon on 11/16/09 at 6:05

those horrible horrible people giving out bibles to kids. now these are the kind of people that cause kids to shoot people, get on drugs, and become sexually active they must be stopped!

By: parastarz on 11/16/09 at 6:37

Hey "voteoutbartgordon"....then I guess it's OK with you then if Muslims hand out the Quran to students, and Buddhists, Hinduists, Jews and every other religion gets their own shot at handing out their religious books at school??
The Government has no business endorsing ANY religion. This is a country of many religions. and all are equal.

By: titansfb on 11/17/09 at 9:11

Who can I sue? I want my children to be able to practice religion at school. I want them to be prayed for and praying before a football game. I want them praying for others and prayed for at graduations. Why aren't my rights being protected???? Instead all you idiots that are against God and all good things happening to you are ruining this country, the lives of our children. Think about back when when the stupid ACLU kept their noses out of everything and prayer was allowed, religion was good, people weren't getting shot like they are today or raped or whatever the world was a better place because this country was a country that prayed and believed in power of prayer and had no problem with our children praying at school. Now some stupid jerks out to make the world a terrible place doesnt want to pray so look at the world today, crime is the worst its ever been, people are meaner and nastier than they have ever been. Im telling you know yaw better start praying and pray hard! God have mercy on the souls on those that support these lawsuits and are against prayer in our schools. If you dont like it be home schooled!!! Keep your behind at home - we dont want you there making it worse for our kids!! I could go on and on but instead I will pray that somehow someway - GOD - will show is self and change the way things are - I hate the way this world has become - hate every bit of it and cant stand the fact that my children have to grow up in it!

By: farmgal on 11/17/09 at 10:32

To parastarz: Your point might be well taken if the law was administered equally. However, our school children in this country's pubic education system have ALREADY been handed the Quran and required to memorize portions of it, say prayers to Allah, given a Muslim name and Islamic religious material. Protests arose from the kids' parents, not the ACLU. Where was the ACLU on this? If this had been a promotion of Christianity the ACLU would be ALL OVER it. The ACLU's silence on this is deafening -- they are okay with religious freedom as long as it isn't Christianity. Wow, the leaders of the world appear to be gathering together to take their stand against the God of Israel and his chosen one.

By: girliegirl on 11/17/09 at 10:45

I hear ya, farmgal!!! The only group here in the US being denied Freedom of Speech is the Christian group.

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 11:51

"idiots"..."stupid"...yes, titansfb sure sounds like a typical "Christian"...
Keep your religious beliefs to yourselves. Thank you.

By: sidneyames on 11/17/09 at 12:12

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 11:51
"idiots"..."stupid"...yes, titansfb sure sounds like a typical "Christian"...
Keep your religious beliefs to yourselves. Thank you.

House, I double dog dare you to walk up to a Muslim and say "idiot, stupid, keep your religious belief to yourself".

Double dog dare you to go public with that comment, but substitute Christian with Muslim. Better still, do it in Iran, Iraq or some largely Muslim neighborhood up north.

Then you'll see who's really stupid.

If you don't like Christians, then don't like them. But can't you resist the bashing of them? After all, they are a majority. I'd rather hear about God than guns; about abundant love than abortions; about giving to others rather than stealing from others; about good rather than mean spirited and evil.

Chrisitians are human, therefore not PERFECT.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 12:42

sid, everyone can believe what they want however Christians do not have the (pardon the phrase) god given right to shove their beliefs down other people's throats. a public school should be secular. if you want the Bible taught in school, send your kid to a private Christian school. But don't force it on the rest of us through the public school system for which all of us, Christian or not, pay taxes to support.

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 12:56

sid, the "idiot" and "stupid" quotes are from one of your fellow Christians.
They are the ones doing all the "bashing". When I bash someone, you'll know it.
BTW, my comment was directed at all faiths...Muslims included.

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 3:07

Ask God what is wrong with our schools and he would tell you that he has been locked out........To all you people who feel like you were once a tadpole or a monkey.....Wake Up! You really feel like you once swam in the mud and came from a frog's butt??? NOT ME! How the hell did you get here??? reincarnation? were you the chicken my great grandmother killed back in 1902 and ate for dinner??
Who made you? What made you?
If you are so very offended by a God who is forgiving and died on the cross for your sins.....then GET OVER IT!!!!! Just like we have to GET OVER the things we don't agree with in religions other than christianity. I don't agree with the Church of Christ 100% but i don't think they will harm my kids by not dancing, i don't agree with the Jehovah WIttness 100% but i respect their right not to trick or treat or celebrate birthdays. So even if you don't agree with us....most southern born people grew up with a Bible on the table somewhere and to the natives here......that is all we know SO LEAVE US ALONE AND GO TO YOUR FREAK SHOWS where anything and everything goes and leave us alone. WE ARE IN THE BIBLE BELT!!!!!! We still swear to God in the courtrooms! What about that! Heaven help us cause someone will stop it next week!

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 3:09

My atheist friends have no problem with my God.....I think this is a personal insecurity that is individualized. Weak people cannot allow others to express themselves. Strong people pat them on the back and say "way to go".

By: sidneyames on 11/17/09 at 3:20

I Weak people cannot allow others to express themselves. Strong people pat them on the back and say "way to go".

Border collie I'll go one step further: Caring and loving people are willing to listen even if they don't agree with the one speaking.

As well, really smart people listen without condeming. I am a christian; I don't shove it down anyone's throat. And I listen to all points.

By: govskeptic on 11/17/09 at 3:28

Atty George Barrett has made most of his life's earnings
by getting the Federal Court's to give him a big fee when
he's involved in these type lawsuits. Who provides these
dollar's the Federal Court's give out in these type cases?
You do, the taxpayers, 65-80% who claim some degree
of attachment to the christian faith. Rather ironic isn't it!

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 3:34

I don't shove anything down anyone's throat...never will...but our country is changing way to much and anything goes.....people need to be spiritual ...OUR KIDS need it!!! And you said it...why not let the kids have their prayer...if you don't like it don't listen. we have to listen to people hating on us all the time and filing law suits to close the open Bibles......God said that if you turn your back on him he will act as if he never knew you....And i have a 4 year degree so am i stupid? no....just not afraid to speak out when i see our country going to hell in a haywagon!

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 3:36

you should want your kids to be prayed for before the football game ...several years ago a young man collapsed and died on the football field not far from here....freak thing but it happened.......i was there when they coded him....everyone was praying!!!!!

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 3:44

i'm not saying people who are religious shouldn't pray. pray if you want to but don't hand out Bibles and require group prayer at a public school. that's what private Christian schools are for. when you expect it at public schools you are allowing EVERYONE'S tax dollars to support your belief and your belief only. public schools should be secular.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 3:46

don't act so dang persecuted, border collie. no one tells you not to pray. just do it privately. no one infringes upon your freedom of speech. for goodness sake - turn on the TV on Sunday a.m. and it's hard to find a show that is not a church show. no one, absolutely NO ONE is infringing on your rights.

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 3:55

i don't watch tv preachers...i actually haven't been to church in years but i went every time the doors were open from birth until age 16 when i could drive and skip. also, went to private school..... our country is going to hell in a haywagon and if we don't get angry and speak up we will never recover...and actually we may not now. it is very scary when you cannot trust the teachers, the preachers, even the police in some instances....why? lack of religion, lack of conscious and lack of character. the anything goes and everything is ok mentality is the reason we are so lacking. You have to stand for something or you will fall for anything. i don't agree with giving out Bibles but i think a prayer to keep everyone safe and sound is perfectly ok.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 3:56

so, unless you go to church and read the bible you have no ethics or morals? seriously? that's small minded.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:00

During 10 years in Sing-Sing, those executed for murder were 65% Catholics,
26% Protestants, 6% Hebrew, 2% Pagan, and less than 1/3 of 1% non-religious.

In "The New Criminology", Max D. Schlapp and Edward E. Smith say that two
generations of statisticians found that the ratio of convicts without
religious training is about 1/10 of 1%.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:01

Dr. Christian, Superintendant of the NY State Reformatories, checked
22,000 prison inmates and found only 4 college graduates. In "Who's Who"
91% were college graduates, and he commented that "intelligence and
knowledge produce right living" and that "crime is the offspring of
superstition and ignorance."

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 4:02

there were no thieves at my locks on the'e purse was ever was attacked in the hallway and no teachers ever sexually harrassed us. we got paddled and THEN they called our parents. That is the way it should be.....but everyone is raising kids now to believe they have been wronged and descriminated against. raising them to fight against family values and morality. let them wear short-shorts with "cutie" and "hottie" on the butt of their shorts...wear low-cut shirts that show all of their boobs .....and you expect them to be virginal....please people...wake up! We have to have some sort of guide for our kids....the Bible is mine...i am no saint but i know what is right and wrong

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:03

forcing the Bible and prayer in the public school system is NOT the answer.

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 4:08

how do you instill right and wrong if you have no do you say do unto others as you would have them do unto you???? unless you quote it?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:10

you think the Bible is the only guide? you can't teach right and wrong without it? really? how do you account for the statistics I posted?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:12

if you want to raise your children by the Bible, fine and well. but don't use my tax dollars for schools to force your theology on others.

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 4:12

You can't argue with insane people, Blanket. can, but why?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:15

got a point there, house.

By: border collie on 11/17/09 at 4:23

i suppose you two are teens ...early twenties....and wil end up in my ER needing a STD check soon? anything goes...right????

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:27

once again, you equate religion with morals. not true. see the statistics above.

i happen to be in my mid 40's btw. but thanks for slinging an insult since you didn't like what i had to say.

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 4:27

I'll be 40 in a couple of days, thank you...and I won't be needing "your ER".
I've got one right next door to the building I work in.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 11/17/09 at 4:28

divorce and unwanted pregnancies are higher in red states. how do you account for that?

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 4:28

Typical, Blanket, is it not?

By: Nash19 on 11/17/09 at 5:04

For all those who write and believe EVERYONE'S tax dollars should not be spent on religion in public schools I agree. You write and believe if someone wants their child to be in a religious school the parents should pay for it. I agree. The parents shoudl use their own money to pay for it. That being said, I also agree EVERYONE'S tax dollars should not be used to kill unborn babies. If you want to kill your unborn baby then use your own money and pay for it yourself. Do NOT use EVERYONE'S tax dollars.

By: gofer on 11/17/09 at 6:52

I don't see where "required" is mentioned anywhere in the article. I see the word "sponsored" and "endorsed". There is NO separation of church and state in the constitution. One way to perserve "freedom of religion" is to prevent people from being free to practice religion? It seems that all participation is voluntary. It shouldn't be coerced. If a law is made that "prohibits" the free practice of religion in the "public square", then the constitution has been violated and that would include the non-coerced practice in public schools and any religion should have that priviledge.

If church and state were separated, then the Founders immediately violated their own constitution. They named a Chaplain to Congress and the Constitution was signed..."In the Year of Our Lord."

By: VUFan21 on 11/17/09 at 10:39

This may be longer than it should be, but I feel that since the claims against the county are constitutional claims, then perhaps that is where the discussion should begin...

Gofer is correct to point out that the phrase "seperation of church and state" cannot be found in the Constitution. What everyone is truly debating it the inherent conflict between the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. It is a struggle to avoid any "establishment" of a religion while at the same time respecting someone's free exercise thereof.

I do not want to "call out" any one posters because regardless of point-of-view, the opinions expressed so far exemplify the strong feelings that both sides have on this issue. That being said, I do feel both sides have allowed thier personal views to bias the debate on constitutional issue at hand.

For example, it has been argued above that public schools should be secular, which does have a logical basis. However, that view ignores the fact that by completely banning a religious aspect, then the school (and thus government by extension) is establishing a secularism of sorts, which is no more allowed than an offical "traditional" religion. Further, it was stated that taxpayer money should not be spent on teaching relgion in schools. Just as the Constitution protects an individual's civil liberties, it also protects the goverment's right to spend tax dollars on any legitimate end (Article I Section 8 Clause I: The Spending Clause). So the issue becomes is this a legimate end of government. The state sponsorship of a religion would obviously not be a legitimate end, but the allowance of the free exercise of would be. That is the key, is cannot state sponsorship; government must be neutral on the issue of religion. (BTW... since I assume that everyone in here is a Tennessee resident, then I can assume that you know that a large part of the funding for county school is county property tax. If a parent chooses to take his or her child out of public school and put them in a private school, can that person opt out of paying county property tax, so that he or she could use that money to pay for his or her child's private education and not pay for the education of other children, from which he or she will derive zero benefit?)

The actions of the county do seem to violate the Establishment Clause. I do not think that handing out of Bibles violates a known right; unless the school requires children take the Bibles or it does not allow anyother religion to handout thier own sacred texts. However, "teacher-endorsed" prayer at football games is an ambigious phrase... I have no idea what "teacher-endorsed" means. If it means that the teachers are saying that the prayer should happen, or the teacher is giving the prayer then it does violate the students rights. Teacher act "in loco parentis" which is latin for "in the place of a parent" and as such has special responsibilities in the education system. The teacher "endorsing" the prayer is just the same as the State of Tennessee making a law that required the prayer. Addtionally, the school "sponsered" prayer at graduation is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. Even if graduatation wasn't optional (which it is) the fact that the students that chose to opt out would feel ostracized from thier friends. That is something that these student should not have to feel.

Finally, I would like to end by trying to show that the view of keeping prayer and religion out of schools is not a reclection of one's morality. A devout Jew would not want (and would firmly against his or her religion to be a part of) to hear a christian prayer to Jesus. Yet, the moral code of a Jew is more strict than that of a Christian. As to the comment of this being the "Bible Belt," that fact is true, but the logic of that claim only works because Christians happen to be the majority religion. Would you really have the same claim if ( as is the growing global trend) Islam was the dominant religion? Would you be fine if instead of a prayer, all student were required to begin the football game with the most sacred of Islamic faith: There is no God, but God (Allah) and Muhammed is His prophet. I doubt so. Further, if Christianity if your chosen religion, then what does Christ say about prayer? "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:5-6. There is no need for you to pray aloud in school.

I hope all see that this is a complex and deeply personal area of debate and that both sides have valid points.

By: titansfb on 11/18/09 at 8:01

By: house_of_pain on 11/17/09 at 11:51
"idiots"..."stupid"...yes, titansfb sure sounds like a typical "Christian"...
Keep your religious beliefs to yourselves. Thank you.

Excuse me pain cause that is all you do with your comments is inflict pain. I have the freedom of speech to voice my concerns. Rather you like it or not does not make me an idiot or makes me stupid. I have a right to say what I want when I want and if you dont like it then fine. I sit here day after day and watch you post stuff but I dont call you can idiot or stupid because I dont agree with you.
YES I AM A PROUD CHRISTIAN. Do you want to persecute me for that? I would gladly die for my savior who died for me.
I agree and dont shove nothing down anyones throat, BUT, if my children want to pray at school or read their bible at a public school or gathering they should not be punished for that. They should not be called stupid and idiot for that. Not everyone can afford private schools, so those that want to say a prayer at school or at a football game and there is a group of them that wants to do this than that is fine whose to say that they are wrong for it. You want to participate fine you dont fine. You want to accept a bible being handed out fine, you dont just so no thank you and walk away. Why is there a need to sue? Money greedy people? I dont know. All I know is there is a God who died and rose again. He is forgiving, he is almighty, he is all knowing. I dont claim to be perfect, I am definitely not perfect, that is why I have a savior. Sorry if you disagree with that, Sorry if you think I am an idiot for it. I pray that someday you will realize it before its too late.
One proud praying Christian!!

By: border collie on 11/18/09 at 8:27

I am actually a very fair and open minded person. I practice what i preach. i would give you my last dollar if you needed it more. often give when i really cannot. what about you? are you empathetic? are you humble? are you willing to put yourself in harms way to help someone else? even if they disagree with you? even if they insulted you and cussed you last week? would you help someone if they were being beaten and there was no-one else around or would you walk on? would you take your coat off and give it to someone who was walking around in short sleeves cause they could not afford one? That is what my Bible has taught me.

By: CCHS1998 on 11/18/09 at 4:42

What is so bad about a bible? It teaches to love one another, it teaches not to steal, lie, it teaches to obey your parents...... Ten Commandments.......... All these are really good things to live by and to set as goals of your life.... I have a 2 year old and MY 2 YEAR OLD WILL, and let me say that again, WILL, pray when he wants to pray, learn when he wants to learn, and teach anyone who wants to learn, when it comes to God! When I was in school, We didn't have this stupid moment of silence, we had prayer.... and I remember praying out front around the flag pole.... It was MY choice and I am a better person inside for that.

If you want good standards, and a decent set of rules/goals/morals to live by, please pick up a BIBLE and learn. And for those of you who don't want to live by good standards, rules, morals, and goals, then don't pick it up. I AM BY NO MEANS SAYING THAT IF YOU DO NOT READ A BIBLE YOUR STANDARDS OF LIVING IS BAD!!! Do NOT take what I say the wrong way. I am simply saying that there is nothing in the bible that teaches you to be a bad person, so why get so upset about someone giving them out. For the life of me, and I will prob get reamed for this, but the world was much more easy and just when God was around.......

By: border collie on 11/19/09 at 12:23

I have thought of a good solution to the fear of praying to God in heaven.....why not let there be a moment every day when kids can pray the way they see fit. introduce NEW ways so we can all learn more about the opposites of ourselves. one day let a jehovah wittness kid say a prayer, muslim, jewish, baptist, nazarene, methodist, catholic, buddist, whatever......each day a new representation of faith so we are all educated. if you are firm in your beliefs... the beliefs of others will not scare or threaten you. let everyone participate. after all isn't that what everyone wants=equality?? so give everyone the opportunity to share