A cell phone video (below) of Robert Bruce, a youth pastor, leading students in prayer inside a cafeteria at Hollister Middle School in Missouri has stirred controversy and a possible lawsuit.
"It's not necessarily freedom from religion, but it's freedom of religion," Dr. Brian Wilson, superintendent of the Hollister School District, told KY3.
However, this move made go against the U.S. Constitution. According to the Cornell University Law School, the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment reads (in part), "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
Article VI of the Constitution states, "[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
"There's not been a parent of Hollister schools nor a student that has issued a complaint," Wilson added to KY3. "However, we did receive a letter from a group out of Madison Wisconsin."
The letter came from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which says a local parent alerted them to the prayer led by Bruce, who is with KLIFE, a Christian organization in Branson, Missouri.
Patrick Elliott, a FFRF attorney, said in a press release on Feb. 16:
It is well settled as a matter of established law that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion. It is unconstitutional for a public school to allow an evangelical Christian organization to impose prayer on all students.
Giving the group access to all students as part of school programming suggests that the school district has preference not only for religion over nonreligion, but also evangelical Christianity over other faiths. This sort of entanglement between religion and public education is inappropriate.
The FFRF press release adds: "Schools may not allow this sort of access to a religious organization seeking to proselytize. Moreover, it is inappropriate for public schools to offer KLIFE representatives unique access to a captive student audience on school property. When the school does this, it advances the organization’s mission of proselytizing."
"Our school practice is one, we are not going to promote any particular religion," Wilson told KY3. "However, we are also not going to inhibit that religion either."
According to the school, Bruce asked them if he could join the kids for lunch, and during the lunch,the students asked him to be part of the prayer.
The school said that it investigated the incident and is going to allow Bruce to come back to the school.
Wilson said that addressing the prayer situation distracts from the education of students. Nonetheless, he plans to tell parents and students how they have a choice to be a part of, or not participate, in religious activities at the public educational facility.