Religion

Arkansas Public School Under Fire By Atheist Group For Allowing Students To Pray

| by Meg O'Connor
Students gathered in prayer before a football gameStudents gathered in prayer before a football game

A public school in Ashdown, Arkansas has become the center of debate after refusing to comply with the demands of an atheist group known as The Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The controversy began when the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose organizational mission is to defend the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, sent a letter to Ashdown School District Superintendent Jason Sanders.

In the letter, the atheist group took issue with the high school band director's tendency to lead students in prayer, and with the school-sponsored prayer that takes place at Ashdown School District football games.

According to KTBS, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's staff attorney Elizabeth Cavell claims the organization wrote the letter after being contacted by a concerned student. "We were informed that staff are participating in prayer or inappropriately injecting religion into their public school role," Cavell said.

"Probably 60 percent of letters that we send all year have to do with violations in public schools just like this," Cavell added. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a non-profit with approximately 23,000 members, and frequently inserts themselves into the affairs of schools, police departments, and public parks around the country, taking issue with perceived violations of the separation of church and state. 

The atheist group recently sent a letter to the Hempstead County Sheriff's Office, for example, demanding that the department remove "In God We Trust" decals that had recently been added to their patrol vehicles. They also sent a spate of letters to colleges and universities around the country demanding that the schools abolish their football chaplainships.

Every time the Freedom From Religion Foundation sends a letter demanding an end to a certain activity, the organization claims that they have been contacted by a member of the local community who took issue with religious aspect of the activity.

For his part, Superintendent Sanders told KTBS that he does not believe they have violated any laws, and says that he feels "like the freedom of our students to express themselves will hold up in a court of law."

Sources: KTBS, The Blaze

Photo credit: KSLA