Teacher-Led Prayer Sessions At Missouri High School Leads To Lawsuit

| by

An organization has filed a lawsuit, claiming that prayer sessions held at Fayette High School in Missouri violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says the government may not establish an official religion.

The lawsuit alleges a math teacher led the weekly Christian devotional prayer sessions for several years in her classrooms after buses arrived in the morning and before classes began. The suit said she would urge students to pray for sick or injured students and joined the students in saying "amen." The school's former principal made an announcement over the public address system to remind students about the meetings.

The complaint was filed by the American Humanist Association, a student and a parent on behalf of another student, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune. It alleges that weekly prayer sessions were held in teacher Gwen Pope's classroom at 7:30 a.m. The school opens at 7:30 a.m., but the first classes don't start until 7:55 a.m.

A legal consultant for the American Humanist Association said the time of the meeting, which she said "was taking place during school hours," is an issue and the big issue was Pope's role in the meetings. The complaint claims that Pope participated in the prayer sessions and promoted the Fellowship of Christian Students club.

"Her praying with students is what is completely unacceptable," Monica Miller said, adding that it violates the First Amendment's establishment clause.

University of Missouri law professor Carl Esbeck noted that an important distinction is whether the prayer sessions took place while the teacher was "on the clock."

"Outside their clock hours, they're private citizens like anybody else," Esbeck told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Fox News also reports that in a statement obtained by KOMU, the school district declined to comment on the allegations specified in the complaint but said it would "vigorously defend against any claim that the district has taken actions which violate any person's First Amendment rights."

Sources: Fox News, Columbia Daily Tribune